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:
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.