I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fall Into The "Gap"

New Jersey Left Behind is taking the NJEA to task for "misconstruing facts" on their "slick new website" (I guess a poorly designed website would be better?).

NJLB's first problem? 
The “TRUTH,” according to the link, is that “Math scores are among the nation's best: New Jersey public school students score among the very best in the nation in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).” That’s true: the mean score in math – and reading – for NJ students is comparatively high. However, NJ’s gap between poor students and middle/high income students (defined by eligibility for free or reduced lunch) is also one of the highest in the nation, according to The National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the NAEP. In 8th grade math, for example, we post a 30% gap between students eligible and not eligible for free lunch. One state in the country (Maryland) has a higher gap (31%). Three others – Colorado, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina – post 30%. Every other state has a smaller achievement gap.
Hmmm... If you're going to compare the "gap" to other states, you'd better look at two things:

  1. Whether the poor kids are doing worse than other states.
  2. Whether the not-poor kids are doing BETTER than other states.
See, if the poor kids are doing worse, that would widen the gap; but so would the not-poor kids doing really well. How does NJ stack up?

Here's a quick graph, using the same data set:

So, all the kids in NJ do better than average (5th in the nation), the not-poor kids do better than average (3rd in the nation!), and even the poor kids do better than average (18th in the nation).

I don't have the statistics chops to do a full analysis, but, on the face of it, a large portion of the gap comes from the fact that our not-poor kids do very, very well compared to the rest of the nation's not-poor kids.

Should the NJEA be ashamed of this? Would it be better if our not-poor kids did WORSE, because that would close the gap? Especially since our poor kids are doing better than average anyway?

By the way, the gap between North Dakota (280), which is ranked 1st for eligible students, and NJ (270) is 10 points. I have no idea what that means, but both levels are rated "Proficient." Are we talking a big difference in achievement? Again, I'm no expert in the NAEP, so I don't know. Some say "A good rule of thumb for interpreting NAEP scale scores is that 10 points translates roughly into one year’s worth of learning." Maybe, but what if your state's curriculum isn't aligned to NAEP as well as another's? That "one year" could mean anything.

Further, poor kids are hardly a homogeneous group. I'll bet we have a lot more "eligible" kids in NJ for whom English is a second language than they do in ND.

But whatever; my main point here is that a lot of the gap comes from NJ doing a very good job with kids who aren't poor, and that's not something the NJEA should be blamed for. Nor should they refuse to take pride in NJ students' achievements because of it.

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