The Wawascene was created by Dr. Mark Stock, former Superintendent of the Wawasee Community School Corporation. Due to its local popularity, Dr. Stock has left the blog site to future Wawasee administrators.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What factors explain variation in student achievement?

One of our commenters asked the question, "What are some of the factors that influence the variation in student achievement that are NOT in the schools' control?"

Great question.

First it is important to understand that correlation is NOT cause-and-effect. Correlation simply means that two items seem to be " co-related," meaning they have a relationship. For example, poverty has a fairly strong correlation to test scores. They go together but poverty does not CAUSE low test scores. There are poor students with high test scores and rich students with lower test scores. The relationship is NOT cause-and-effect, but few people will deny that there is a relationship between these two items.

To demonstrate this I have provided a few links.

If you click here, you will see student SAT scores in Indiana by parental income levels.

If you click here, you will see student SAT scores in Indiana by parental education levels.

I will share more information later that could start a small ruckus. You see, there are some politically touchy things here that Democrats and Republicans both seem to shy away from addressing publicly, but most likely for different reasons.

Democrats run the risk of offending their political bases by trotting out some of these stats, and the Republicans run the risk of showing that public schools are doing a pretty darn good job given the social trends they are dealing with. And that my friends, doesn't help advance a privatization/school voucher agenda.

My .02. More later.


Anonymous said...

Those links were great. We need to show high school kids that graph about education level. It might encourage them to strive to beat the odds if their parents are not very educated. And hopefully it will encourage them to stay in school and go on to college.

Anonymous said...

Wow, these charts are amazing. It fits my two children's SAT scores almost perfectly with our income level and educational level.

Anonymous said...

Wow. It appears I have nothing to worry about with my kids, but I am disturbed that we (Indiana) rank below national average. Is this an indication that Indiana schools are below national standard?

Anonymous said...

Indiana ranks below average except for the categories in which they rank average or above. That is the interesting thing to me. Indiana seems to do better than the national average as you move down the income and education level, but not as well as you move up. I don't know what the significance of that is, however.

Another question I have is at what point the differences in scores become significant. Is that at 10 points, or 20 points or what?

Perhaps Dr. Stock can shed some light.

Dr. Mark J. Stock said...

It is a good question. I am not sure how to explain how "significant" a 20 point gap is. "I'll try. It is significant to a researcher looking at massive amounts of pooled data. It probably means NOTHING to me as an individual parent when I think about how significant it is for my children's lives.

Most test instruments derive their "points" from what are called "scaled scores." This means that each test question is weighted depending on difficulty levels etc.and the points are then added up. Groups of people sit around in dark, smoke-filled rooms smoking big cigars and argue deep into the night on where to set the "cut-scores." (I made that part up!) Which essentially means, "How many students do we want to fail?" This is a social and political question NOT essentially an academic one. Moses never came down the mount with tablets estabishing an ISTEP or SAT cut-score for college admissions.

For example, on ISTEP a 10 or 20 point swing to an average parent can seem significant on how they feel about where their child "ranks" and yet, it could be only one or two questions.

As a parent myself, I always go back to what is most significant in life. That being honesty, integrity, and work ethic. Now THAT is significant. BUT I know what you mean, it is hard to look at those graphs sometimes and determine how significant it is.

The best way to put it is that 10 or 20 points is indeed significant at state levels with massive data collections. On an individual student level those point swings become less significant.