11 September 2005

Numbers Game

I have been told that one of my areas of focus as district Science Goddess will be data analysis. Science testing is required by NCLB, but it is not factored into AYP...yet. (NCLB is up for renewal/revision next year and most people are betting that science will make the move into AYP territory.)

I have been provided with some basic testing data during the last two years, but now I actually have access to the databases and software in order to dig a little deeper. A preliminary glance at things reveals some rather frightening and thought-provoking results.

Just using the school I teach at as an example...


  • Only 3% of the 10th grade boys who were part of the Free and Reduced Lunch program met the standard in science (compared to 35% who weren't part of that program). And, perhaps I should just say 10th grade "boy," because 3% represents a single student. Girls fared better, but "FRL" girls met the standard at half the amount of the others (24.5% vs. 49.3%). Free and Reduced Lunch is one indicator of income...so, in other words, students from "poor" families did worse than those of middle class (or above).
  • Not a single African-American male met the standard in science (compared with 33.3% of Asian, 40% of Hispanics, and 30% of Whites). Oddly enough, African-American students of both sexes had the highest Reading scores of any subgroup...but were lowest in math, writing, and science.
  • In general, 43% of our girls met the science standard...but only 31% of our boys did. Boys did outperform girls on one strand of the standard, however girls were far and away stronger at everything else in science (especially "Inquiry"). Beyond that, girls beat the pants off the guys on all of the tests.

Other schools in my district show the same pattern, even if their particular numbers are a bit different.

Whether or not you like NCLB, it has caused us (meaning American educators) to really start taking a hard look at issues of equity. I personally believe that those conversations are long overdue, even if the structure of NCLB leaves much to be desired. Because we know that skin colour is just "skin deep," so why does it have such an enormous result in testing? And what do we do about that? We know that children who come to us from economically deprived backgrounds have fewer life experiences to draw from and that their background knowledge needs extensive support. How do we best do that to give them equal footing with their peers? Why does a Y chromosome apparently have so much influence over performance on standardized tests?

Or does it? Maybe it's the instruction. Well, more than "maybe." I really wonder what it is that we're doing in the classroom that creates some of these differences in the outcomes. What will I look for when I'm out at various schools? How can I help my colleagues address these differences and support student learning for all kids?

Lots of questions, I know. I am at the beginning of a journey for my district---and I'm not sure where it will lead. I have some numbers in my pocket and it's hard to divine a road map from them. Yes, kids are more than just numbers, but the data are signposts that some kids aren't getting what they deserve. Any Tour Guides out there?

2 comments:

Rob said...

I think most of the differences you are seeing are cultural. It's hard to explain the higher achievement of girls as a function of instruction, unless you're going to claim that teachers call on girls more often or pay more attention to girls in the classroom, both of which seem unlikely.

The problem is that, in contemporary US culture, it's totally uncool to be good at science. It's even more uncool for boys than girls and worst, I suspect, for black boys. I would also bet that the educational level of the parents is a good predictor of the way the children test out.

I'm sure you know all of this. The problem is, what do we do about it? I wish I knew.

How high is the "standard" in science for NCLB? How deeply screwed are we if only about a third of the kids are meeting it?

I honestly think that the 21st century is going to be extremely unkind to the uneducated and untrained. Everyone doesn't have to go to college (someone has to lay the bricks and pour the concrete and there is no dishonor in working a good trade), but everyone is going to need the basics. Anyone who wants to make a "living" wage is going to have to have a good high-school education.

A nation of tards is not going to be able to sustain its standard of living.

The Science Goddess said...

Indeed.

What I find troubling is that according to the data we get on kindergartners entering the district---there aren't any differences among the performance of subgroups on some basic tasks.

But by 5th grade (in science), those differences are there. How can they all start out equally and so quickly move at different rates? I'm sure that culture does influence things some.