Friday, August 24, 2018


Last week, Kevin Richert wrote an interesting article in Idaho Education News entitled "Performance and Poverty: Looking at the State's School Rankings". In the article, Richert noted that, among Idaho's 29 lowest SBAC performers, 23 had free/reduced lunch qualification percentages above that of the state of Idaho. while only 6 had percentages below the state average of about 47%. So most of the "low performers" were high poverty schools.

At the time Richert was putting together his article, we were researching the free/reduced status of the "highest performing" schools in Math and ELA as identified by the state of Idaho.  We looked at schools identified for high achievement on the SBAC as well as those identified for high growth on the test.

Highest Achieving Schools (K-8)

Forty-one of the forty-seven "highest achieving" schools (87%) in ELA had free/reduced lunch percentages below the state average of 47%, while three had percentages higher than the state average, and three others were so small that no free/reduced lunch data were available.  In Math, the story was much the same - 41 of 47 had FRL percentages lower than the state. In fact, 28 of the schools on the ELA list and 25 on the Math list have FRL percentages below 25.

Just a very few schools that made the list were high poverty schools. Among those in Math were Chief Joseph Elementary in West Ada, Rulon Ellis Elementary in Pocatello, Sunrise and Riverview Elementaries in Shelley, and Harold B. Lee Elementary in West Side. In ELA, the awardees with high percentages of FRL were Ellis, Northside Elementary in Sandpoint, and Thatcher Elementary in Grace. Interestingly, Chief Joseph is the only school in the list with an LEP population significantly higher than the state average. That's impressive.

We have known since the first year of SBAC testing that the exam results were highly correlated with poverty. So these results are not a surprise. However, we thought that the new "growth" measures would provide opportunities for schools from every demographic level to demonstrate.

Highest Growth Schools (K-8)

Unfortunately, what we found was that the demographics of high growth schools were remarkably similar to high achieving schools - in other words, very few had free/reduced percentages above the state average. 

In fact, in many cases the high achieving schools and the high growth schools were the same schools. Thirty of the 44 ELA high achieving schools were also high growth schools, and all but 2 of those schools had lower FRL percentages than the state. In math, 30 of the 47 high achievement schools were also high growth schools,  and only 1 of those schools had an FRL percentage higher than the state average.

Among the high FRL percentage schools that showed high ELA growth were Westside Elementary in Idaho Falls, Chief Joseph and Meridian in West Ada, Thatcher in Grace, and Hope in Sandpoint (Hope is a small elementary school). In Math, high FRL growth schools were Ellis in Pocatello, Meridian, Paris in Bear Lake, Willow Creek in Nampa, and Paul Elementary in Minidoka County.

What the Lists Reveal - and What We Can Learn

It's clear that the vast majority of schools that have high SBAC achievement and/or growth have relatively low percentages of students qualifying for free/reduced lunch, and that those with low achievement are primarily schools with high percentages of FRL students.  In most cases, then, the rankings/lists published by the State Department of Education just confirm that performance and growth on the SBAC are highly related to poverty. 

However, we do have a few examples of high poverty schools that have demonstrated excellent performance and growth, and we should be able to find out what they are doing to get past the barriers they face. The State Department might want to identify best practices and strategies from some of these schools that other schools might want to use. For our part, we will be contacting principals at a few of these high flyers to find the factors to which they attribute their growth and achievement.

Monday, August 20, 2018


As we have written before, it's important as we measure performance to assess the availability of rigorous coursework, and whether students take advantage of the opportunity afforded them to take the exams associated with those courses.

So, for 2018, which were the Idaho high schools that had the highest participation in rigorous coursework? We define "rigorous coursework"as the "gold standard" for rigor in Idaho, Advanced Placement exams. (We do not evaluate participation in International Baccalaureate exams, the other rigorous national exams offered in Idaho).

We deem AP to be the "gold standard" for a couple of reasons:

  • The Advanced Placement exams provide a national standard for particular content knowledge, from United States History to Biology, Calculus to French to Music Theory. Scores of "3" and above on AP exams are deemed "passing", and individual colleges and universities determine the specific credit or waiver to be granted for a particular score.
  • Over 90% of colleges nationwide grant credit or waivers for particular scores on AP exams.
We define exam participation as:

The number of students taking AP exams in 2018 in a high school
The number of 2018 10th, 11th, and 12th graders in the school*

*We used Fall 2018 enrollment numbers from the SDE for this calculation.

Here are the high schools with the highest percentage of exam participation in 2018 in Idaho:

Note that, even though most of the high schools are larger, CDA Charter and McCall-Donnelly, relatively small Idaho high schools,  are included on this list, as they have been in the past. Also, Wood River is a somewhat smaller high school that focuses on rigor, and the two Vallivue high schools have done an excellent job of providing rigor for their students. All four Boise District high schools provide excellent opportunity for rigorous coursework, featuring AVID and at least 24 different AP course offerings.

The next group of high participation schools includes mostly large urban high schools, but also highlights Sandpoint and Moscow, two northern Idaho schools with strong AP programs. Note that two West Ada schools are also included here, as the District has received achievement awards from the College Board for improvement of its AP program.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018


2018 Advanced Placement testing took place in May, and the results were returned from the College Board in July. Here is a summary of the results for the Boise School District.

Exams and Participants

The number of exams taken by District students reached another all-time high, at 4,806. Boise High School again led the way with 1,688 exams taken, but Timberline's total surged to 1,381, with approximately 200 fewer students enrolled than Boise.

The number of participants in AP testing has also grown dramatically over the years, as the District has provided more opportunities and taken down barriers to participation.

In fact, District high schools have made remarkable progress in providing access to coursework and encouragement to take AP exams. Though Advanced Opportunities funds have certainly helped and contributed to the rapid growth of participants and exams recently, the District's efforts to expand access began well before significant funds became available.

Typically, as the percentage of student participation In Advanced Placement testing grows in a school or a district, the passing percentage (scores of "3" and above) declines. In Boise, our goal has been to provide access to rigorous coursework to as many students as possible. knowing that even taking an Advanced Placement test can contribute to success in post-secondary studies, since students have an understanding of the rigor at the next level.

"A 2013 study found that students who took one or more AP Exams, regardless of what score was earned, were more likely to graduate from college in four years compared to non-AP

You can see the pattern in Boise - we have been gratified that so many students who might not have participated in the past are now jumping in and taking those difficult AP exams. By way of reference, Idaho's passing percentage in 2017 was 59%  (57% without Boise) and the national percentage was 57%.