In his recent series of articles in IdahoEdNews (Idaho’s Reading Challenge) Kevin Richert did an excellent job of looking at the issues surrounding literacy in Idaho’s schools. His articles were in depth and highlighted the many different and significant aspects to be considered in evaluating student reading performance and reading instruction in Idaho’s schools. It was a worthy read and should be reread in order to really appreciate the value of the series. The series was timely as the Idaho Legislature, now in session, considers continuing the effort championed by Governor Little to ensure that children can read proficiently by grade three, a direction and goal that we certainly support.
There are a lot of positive things to take from Kevin’s articles and plenty to reflect on in considering how to keep moving the needle to improve student outcomes in reading proficiency.
But there was one particular statement at the end of one of the articles that we found troubling.
In his article, Reading Realities: Idaho Is Far From Its Lofty Literacy Goals, Kevin correctly noted that the 100% proficiency target is a tough objective to reach. He also correctly reports that no school district or charter school hit the 100% target this (last) spring, or this fall. Then, after reporting that no school district hit 90% proficiency, he wrote, “Five charter schools reached the 90% plateau this spring…These are the realities.”
What struck us as being misleading was the comparison of charter “schools” to school “districts”. It seems inappropriate, or at least unfair, to compare a charter school’s outcomes with a school district’s outcome. For example, is it valid to compare the overall performance of a charter school with an enrollment of 407 students that achieved the 90% proficiency target with a nearby school district with an enrollment of 5,200 students that did not make the target, even though the district had a neighborhood school with 459 students that reached 87% proficiency? That type of comparison ignores the serious differences in the size and demographics of the educational institutions being compared. One of the larger brick and mortar charter schools in Idaho has an enrollment of 1,095 (about 85 students per grade level). They had 86% of their students proficient on the spring IRI. A nearby district has more than 3,000 students per grade level. As a district they did not make the 90% target (they achieved a remarkable 81%). They did have two neighborhood schools that made 90% proficiency and nine more neighborhood schools that made 85% or higher.
It makes more sense (to us) that comparisons should be made between “schools” with similar sizes and demographics. When Kevin writes that there were five charter schools that reached 90% proficiency on the IRI this (last) spring, he could have also noted that there were nine public neighborhood schools throughout Idaho that also met that threshold. If you lower the target to 85% proficiency, another 24 public neighborhood schools would be highlighted along with an additional 3 charter schools.
There are other socio-economic factors that should also be taken into consideration in making comparisons between schools; such as the number of students who live in poverty (reflected in Free and Reduced Lunch counts), the number of English Language learners, and the number of students with disabilities.
Despite our criticism of comparing charter schools to school districts, Richert’s series, The Idaho Reading Challenge, is a must read. It is thorough, thoughtful, and full of insights that can help reinforce existing successful literacy programs and drive new initiatives to improve reading achievement for Idaho’s youth.