Friday, May 18, 2018


Last month, several Boise School District Trustees attended the Boise Chamber of Commerce 2018 Leadership Conference in Sun Valley. A couple of Board members went to a presentation by Boise State University personnel in which they showcased their latest survey (December 2017, 1000 respondents, +-3.1% error margin) results. Here's one of the slides the BSU folks used with respect to preparation:

Wow, not good at all. 29.3% of statewide respondents categorized college preparation efforts as "excellent" or "good". The percentage of "excellent/good" responses for the Boise Metro area was even lower, at 29.0%.

Interestingly, BSU's survey used "fair" as a category, and fully 39% of respondents chose that category for the college prep question. What does "fair" mean to you? Decent? Okay? We aren't sure it's an appropriate category, or that it should be grouped with "poor". But maybe that's just splitting hairs.

However, in the run-up to the 2016 bond measure, we did some polling (300 parents + 300 voters, +- 5.6% margin of error)) in the community with the help of a professional polling group. When they asked a similar question, the results looked very different:

So in this poll the choices are better differentiated. "Very well" was the top choice, "Pretty well" was next. And the two choices associated with "dissatisfaction" were "not too well" and "not at all well".

When the choice of "don't know" is included in the data, 68% of those surveyed chose one of the two "positive" choice. When we factored out the "don't know" responses, the percentage choosing the two "positive" choices rose to 85%.

Admittedly, this poll question asks about "preparing students for a career", so it's a bit less focused than the BSU question on furthering their education". However the difference in response patterns is stark.

However, it's tough to know which of the polls was a more accurate reflection of patron/citizen feeling, since the results differed so dramatically. Perhaps the wisest course, especially considering the accuracy (or lack thereof) of recent state and national polls is to regard polling data with healthy skepticism!


Last week, Idaho Education News did a story entitled "It's a First-Class Finish for  Charter's First Class"about the graduating class at North Idaho Stem Charter Academy, a school in Rathdrum, Idaho.  Seems that, among its first graduating class of 7 students, all have been accepted to and will attend college. One each will attend Whitworth University, Gonzaga University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Idaho State University, the University of California - Berkeley, and two will head to North Idaho College. Very impressive results for these 7 students.

However, a little digging into enrollment patterns revealed that, when this class was in the 7th grade, there were 30 students enrolled. That means that 23 of the charter's Class of 2018 (77%) left the school before graduation. And that pattern appears to be continuing for the Classes of 2019 and 2020.

The folks at Idaho Ed News indicated that NISC is a "difficult school" and thus has a high attrition rate.  But public schools are charged with serving all students, providing a thorough and adequate education for each and every one, and differentiating instruction where it's needed.   There are a number of schools in the state of Idaho, including nearby Lakeland High School in Rathdrum, that do just that. If the school chooses not to serve all students, it's really a private school.

Terry Ryan, Executive Director of BLUUM, the charter advocacy organization, echoed what IEN staff said and also gave this explanation: "some of these students...want more extracurricular activities, especially competitive sports, than these schools are able to offer."

That's a fair explanation that makes sense. Lakeland High School offers music, arts, Career-Technical education coursework, a variety of sports and activities, clubs, Advanced Placement and other accelerated offerings, and a number of electives for students. 

There are many other charter schools in the state that see the same sort of enrollment loss as classes move toward graduation.

A Comprehensive Curriculum

It is true that school districts of some size have more flexibility to offer a variety of classes than do charter schools. So you'd expect some high school students who want more than the "specialty" of the charter (arts, "harbor method", STEM, International Baccalaureate, for example) to move back to the local district for that flexibility.

However, some districts provide a "comprehensive liberal arts curriculum" down into the elementary grades.  For example, Boise District students participate in choir from the earliest days of elementary school, and band and orchestra begin in the 5th grade. If parents choose an alternative such as a charter, their students may miss out on the best music instruction in the northwest. 

Differentiation in math begins in elementary school, as well. Many 5th and 6th graders are enrolled in accelerated math curricula, taught either at the junior high school or in their elementary school. This coursework puts students on the path for Advanced Placement Statistics and Calculus courses, which often satisfy key college entry criteria. In science, as well, acceleration begins in junior high, and can lead to AP Physics C coursework in Electricity and Magnetism, for example.

There are many choices available for parents and children in education these days. Choosing wisely involves investigating the opportunities and the drawbacks that may come with those opportunities.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018


Since we are immersed in Advanced Placement testing in the Boise District, we thought it might be interesting to do a little research on the demographics of test-takers in the District. Following are some of our findings.

Grade Level Distribution of Test-takers is Changing

A couple of years ago we wrote that more sophomores are taking Advanced Placement exams. That pattern is continuing.

As you can see, many more sophomores are taking exams now than have in the past.  The number of sophomores participating in AP testing has increased by over 250%.

As a share of total exams, here's the distribution by grade level in 2012:

Now note how much it changes by 2017:

The percentage of sophomores taking exams almost doubled in six years. Why? Well, mostly because all four comprehensive high schools have opened up additional sections of the two courses most often taken by 10th graders - AP Human Geography (280 exams in 2017) and AP World History (276) - because the two courses are so popular.

Note too that the percentage of exams taken by 9th graders has also grown - this is primarily due to sections of AP Human Geography being offered at North and Hillside Junior High.

The most popular AP exams are those which are the highest level of a required course. For example, AP English Language and Composition (607 test-takers in 2017) satisfies the junior English requirement, and AP Literature and Composition (366) does the same for the senior English requirement. AP U.S. History (315) satisfies a Social Studies requirement, and AP Government (276) satisfies another. 


More Boise District females (54% of participants) took AP exams overall in 2017 than did males (46%). Females also took 52% of the AP exams given in 2017. This pattern is similar to that of the national AP program.

Among the 16 exams with more than 100 participants, more males participated than females in only 5 exams - Calculus AB, Calculus BC, Chemistry, Physics 1, and Computer Science Principles. The widest participation margins were in Computer Science Principles, for which 70% of the participants were male and Psychology, for which 66% of the participants were female.

65% of exams taken by male students were scored at the level of "3" or above, a "passing" score. 61% of the exams taken by females received a "passing" score.


Over 98% of 2017 exams were taken by students who identified as one of the three ethnic groups in the chart below.  78% of exams were taken by white students (includes middle eastern students), while white students represent 77% of the high school population. 11.6% of exams were taken by Asian/Pacific Islander students (5.5% of the population), and 8.4% were taken by Hispanic/Latino students (10.5% pf the population). Less than 1% of exams were taken by Black students, though they represent about 4% of the population, and a significant number are refugee students.

Boise's passing percentages compared with the nation are interesting. Our Asian/Pacific Islander students' passing percentage is about 5% lower than the national percentage, while the percentage for our white students is about the same as the nation. However, while there's a passing percentage gap for Hispanic/Latino students compared with the Total, their overall passing percentage if 11% higher than in the nation as a whole.