Monthly Archives: June 2012

Graduation Rates

By Holmes Lundt, June 2012

Another bit of lore about BCSD you often hear is “We have a district that ranks in the top 5 regionally by graduation rates.  In fact, we consistently rank at the top in the state of Idaho, with a graduation rate consistently over 90%”.

Graduation rate IS a great metric for how high schools deliver good outcomes for their entire student bodies, and it’s a closely-followed statistic in the education community.  It’s also a statistic that traditionally has NOT had a uniform algorithm to track it, with different states and districts adopting various measures.  That is changing for 2012, with a mandate under Race-to-the-Top regarding graduation rate, and a uniform measure for it being instituted nationwide.

The Gates Foundation (Bill Gates’ non-profit founded to advance education issues) has led the way  in this effort.  In fact, they’ve already been tracking graduation rates for districts across the US, using consistent measures for how kids enter high schools and matriculate.  Would you be surprised to learn that, using the Gates national indices, the BCSD graduation rates haven’t been running above 90%, but rather in the low 70%s?  Although some of this difference may be due to the variations in algorithms (The Gates Foundation looks at the entirety of the high school experience, over four years, of who entered and what their outcomes were for diploma, GED, special programs and dropping out.), the Gates Foundation does apply it consistently to all districts in the country.  The net is that in 2008, while BCSD showed a graduation rate of 71%, the state average was over 75%, Pocatello was over 85% and Boise District was in excess of 84%.   By nationally-accepted measures, the BCSD graduation rates are not over 90% and certainly not among the best in the state.

The national database searchable map is here:

The specifics of Blaine County School District’s graduation rates are here:

Because the databases are so interactive, it’s possible to browse and get a sense of trends by region.

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SAT Scores, Continued

By Holmes Lundt, June 2012

I’ve recently discovered that other parents have also been asking BCSD administration for years to explain the District’s SAT scores relative to other Idaho schools.  If you’ve made the inquiry,  you’ve probably gotten the same reaction I tend to get when I pose the question–  what appears to be a fairly-rehearsed narrative, delivered with a tone along the lines of “I can’t believe I have to explain this to yet another meddling parent”.  And, the narrative goes something like this (I’m paraphrasing here, but I’ve heard the same pitch 5 times now, so I’m getting a reasonable handle on it.).  “Well, it’s really about the statistics.  You see, we’ve always had a preference for the SAT among our kids, much more so than any other high school in the state.  Over 50% of our kids will take it every year  and the state average is more like 5%.  Since we have such a high percentage of kids taking it, the scores are always going to be lower…”

This explanation generally serves to address the question to a degree and the subject is quickly changed.  And, on first blush, the ‘explanation’ sort of makes sense.  That is until you test the underlying hypothesis, especially as “kids taking the SAT” is a pretty self-selected group.   And, once you apply further scrutiny you find the explanation has got a few holes in it.  For starters, WRHS is hardly the only school in the state with higher percentages of kids opting for the SAT.  Boise District’s high schools all have high rates of SAT participation and all those schools score much higher than BCSD on all SAT sections, across the board.  Coeur d’Alene Academy annually has  well over 50% of their kids take the SAT and generally delivers results of 100 points higher.  Per section.  That is a lot, especially since the standard deviation for BCSD is in the ’90s’.

My favorite counter-example, though, is the gorilla-next-door, Washington state.  In 2011, WRHS had 54.8% of graduates take the SAT.  Washington state had 60.7% of their kids take it.  That’s a lot of kids.  Almost 39,000 in fact, from every district in Washington, including the poorest, the worst-funded and the most challenged. So, how’d they do?  Again, a picture can illustrate it easily:

Washington State’s average SAT Scores for 2011 compared to WRHS.
39,000 Washington Test-Takers versus 109 WRHS participants

Across the board, the averages for Washington state, in its ENTIRETY, outpaced BCSD, the presumed “best school district in Idaho”.  Seven points higher in Math, seven in Critical Reading and nine points higher on the Writing section.  Clearly, there is more to the issue than simply “the percentage of kids taking the test annually” if other states can have higher-percentage participation and yet deliver higher average results.

There’s even more to the story, once one starts to dig into the demographics, and the news is not exactly good.  But, more on that later.

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What the Community Asked For… in Unambiguous Terms

I noted with considerable amusement the comments by Mr. Guthrie and Dr. Barber in last week’s rebuttal to the Mountain Express editorial about the McKinstry debacle: School District did the right thing.

It is humorous to see how quickly the District plays “the strategy card” in defending their race to raise-and-spend the $60M levy proceeds on “green” technologies.  That defense is based around the argument that BCSD decisions were driven by “unprecedented community input”.  The fact is that the community DID turn out in droves for long, interminable sessions of surveys, comments and Q&A.  And, there was a very rigorous process of collecting community comments…  only this is what the community said:

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