The Wild West is Best put your NAEP scores to the Test

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I’m going to use my Professor X powers to read your mind…you are thinking “Alright Ladner enough with the Arizona NAEP scores- won’t you give it a rest?”

No I will not. There’s a party going on right here-it’s a celeNAEPtion and it lasts throughout the year.

I’ve anticipated some of the possible objections to celebrating Arizona NAEP scores. Maybe those dastardly charter schools may have been circumventing their random assignment admission lottery legal requirements to load up on rich white kids! Maybe they don’t have many English Language Learners, special education students, Hispanic students, etc. District schools have to take everyone who can afford to buy a home in their attendance zone so comparisons aren’t fair…

Well some find this a very useful story, but we can actually examine it in the data. Let me note from the outset that variations in student demographics and special program status do exist between schools and school systems, achievement gaps between such student groups are a well-established phenomenon and that some accounting for such differences should be (carefully) made if our goal is to judge the effectiveness of a system. The best way to test this sort of thing is with a well done random-assignment study, but sadly we don’t have one.

I reported earlier that Arizona charter schools essentially tied Massachusetts (the highest scoring state) and the private school national average scores on the NAEP 8th grade reading test in 2015. What happens if we only look at the scores of general education students whose family income make them eligible for a free or reduced lunch? If those dastardly charter schools have been carefully avoiding special needs and ELL students it isn’t going to help them with this comparison.

AZ Charter 8m ranking

Let’s just put it on the table that free and reduced lunch eligible is going to translate to a higher proportion of Hispanic students in Arizona charter schools, but that was not a problem hombre. Do you notice anything similar about all those states (slightly) ahead of Arizona charter schools? Let me give you a hint…

Oh and…

2 Responses to The Wild West is Best put your NAEP scores to the Test

  1. There is still a possibility of exclusion at charters. I noticed years ago that Pacific Collegiate Charter in Santa Cruz had such a rigorous program that weak students either did not apply or left the school. Could not the same thing be true of Basis charter schools in AZ?

    This brings us to a discussion of the belief in efficacy of “differentiated instruction”. I am still looking for substantive proof that differentiated instruction provides each student the opportunity to maximize his/her learning. Many districts prefer to provide general classes that use “differentiated instruction” rather than classes for highly capable students.

    Looking at the program and results from Basis schools, I think that it is an incredible stretch to believe that providing general classes with “differentiated instruction” will produce results like Basis for students of equal raw talent.

  2. matthewladner says:

    BASIS has a small percentage of the AZ charter school student population and my impression is that to the extent attrition is relevant it is more of a high-school phenomenon. The reasons for kids not continuing on are varied and don’t exclusively focus on academics (sports for instance). My son at Great Hearts for instance received a recruitment letter from one of the state’s most highly regarded private schools. He wasn’t interested in leaving, but some of his classmates made the jump.

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