Friday, October 5, 2018


Making fair comparisons of achievement between schools is difficult work. It's important, though, to go through the steps of leveling the demographic playing field before comparing them.

Take this chart from an Idaho Ed News column written by Terry Ryan, BLUUM Executive Director:

As you can see, Ryan compares three districts (Boise, Nampa, and West Ada) with the state of Idaho's low income and ethnic data, and then throws the statewide charter school averages into the mix, treating charters as if they are one "school district".

There's a little sleight of hand going on here, though. So statewide charters have about the same percentage of low income students as Boise - so what. That's an irrelevant statistic. The charters that actually are located in Boise - ANSER, Sage, and the Village - all have low income percentages that are far lower than that of the Boise District. The same can be said for most charters located in West Ada and in Nampa. And, conveniently, percentages of Limited English and Special Education students, which are typically very low in charters, are completely left out of the mix.

In another post, Ryan touts academic performance of  charters compared with public schools across the state, as he argues for more flexibility and more money for charters:

Again, so what. Given the lower poverty rates and miniscule percentage of Limited English students (who are almost all poor) in Idaho charters statewide and the high correlation of the SBAC to poverty rates, they should achieve more highly. 

It's important to note here that only two (2) of Idaho's 51 charters (4%) have Limited English populations greater than 5%, while 128 of 346 (37%) public elementary schools have more than 5% LEP population. Further, 9 of 51 (18%) charters have >50% free/reduced lunch population, while 180 of 346 (52%) of public elementary schools have greater than 50% free/reduced lunch populations.

But there's another way to look at achievement that creates a more level playing field. In this method, we match schools by important demographic characteristics, and see how they compare on measures of  academic performance. Since all Idaho charters have elementary cohorts, we have focused on achievement and demographics at that level.

Schools with <20% Free/Reduced Lunch Count

Here's the first example of schools with like demographics:  

 As you may know, Seven Oaks Elementary is in Eagle and Roosevelt is in Northeast Boise off of Warm Springs. Falcon Ridge Charter is out on Ten Mile Road towards Kuna, and Syringa Mountain is the Waldorf school in Sun Valley - it was the first Waldorf School in Idaho, and Peace Valley on Federal Way is the second. Also, Falcon Ridge has about half the percentage of Special Ed kids as the other 3 schools.

As you can see, Roosevelt's achievement is quite good and Seven Oaks and Falcon Ridge Charter have achievement that's above average.

Math has always been a strength for Roosevelt, even when compared to schools with similar demographics; Falcon Ridge Charter and Seven Oaks have strong math performance, as well. 

Syringa Mountain Charter takes a different approach to academics and curriculum. You can see their curricular philosophy on their website, as well as information about the Waldorf pedagogy.

Schools with 20-30% Free/Reduced Lunch Count

Following are four comparisons of schools with similar demographics. Comparison one:

Rolling Hills Charter sits on the border of West Ada and Boise, on old Highway 55. Sorenson is a Magnet School for the arts in the Coeur d'Alene District. Silver Trail, as noted above, and Gate City is in Pocatello District #25.

This chart shows English Language Arts achievement on the SBAC, in terms of average Standard Score and Idaho percentile ranking for the demographically similar schools in the comparison. Sorenson could serve as a model for ELA achievement at all three grade levels.

The schools are more closely grouped for SBAC math achievement, but again Sorenson's scores are quite good, in the "high average" range.

Schools with 30-40% Free/Reduced Lunch Count

Here's one more comparison, for schools with free/reduced lunch percentages between 30 and 40.

Liberty Charter is one of Idaho's older charters, having been founded in 1999. Lena Whitmore, built in 1952 and named after a beloved teacher in the Moscow District,  is just outside the campus of the University of Idaho in Moscow. McCall's Barbara Morgan Elementary is the namesake of the former teacher and astronaut. Pillar Falls Elementary is one of the two new schools in the fast-growing Twins Falls District, having opened in 2016. Note that Pillar Falls and Liberty Charter have about half the percentage of Special Ed students as Morgan and Whitmore.

All of these schools had "high average" (60th to 76th percentile) or "average" (41st to 59th percentile) achievement in ELA; Whitmore and Morgan had "above average" (77th to 88th percentile) achievement in 5th grade.

On  this slide, Liberty Charter's 5th grade math achievement was notable, clearing the 80th percentile and matching math achievement at Roosevelt, a schools with 1/3 the free/reduced lunch percentage. Otherwise, average and high average achievement was the norm.

Schools with >40%  Free/Reduced Lunch Count

It gets more and more difficult to find matching Charter schools when we are looking for schools with 40% FRL and above, especially when we are trying to match Limited English and SpEd, as well. However, here are a group of high poverty public and charter schools that fit each one of the characteristics.

Heritage Community Charter is in Caldwell, and Heritage Academy is in Jerome. Both charters opened in 2011. Willow Creek, one of the Nampa School District's newer schools, opened in 2005. Heyburn Elementary School in the Minidoka County District opened in 2009.

It's interesting to review results for schools with free/reduced lunch percentage as high as these schools have. The scores are typically not as high as for schools with lower FRL percentages (and no LEP population, typically). However, Heyburn's ELA scores in all 3 grades and Willow Creek's in 5th are worthy of comment. For Heyburn to achieve scores at the state average is impressive -this is a school worthy of recognition from the state of Idaho. Heritage Community Charter and Heritage Academy both showed solid performance in 5th grade. 

Again, in math, Heyburn and Willow Creek evidenced excellent performance for schools with their demographic characteristics. Heritage Community Charter showed solid performance in 3rd and 4th grade.

To be sure, there are other charters and public schools, that have excellent performance on the SBAC, IRI, or SAT, and these are just a sampling of the matches we might find. But, with schools that have 50% or higher FRL percentages, it's tough to find matching charters for the public schools, especially when we attempt to consider Limited English population as an important factor. The two charters in the slides above are the only two in the state with LEP percentages above 5%.