Ranking schools – redux

Published 11:29 am Saturday, October 13, 2012

Recently I wrote a column on the utilization of standardized test scores to rank schools, and the perils of using this single measurement in determining the quality of a school system. Since then, I have received many comments (and had many conversations) regarding this subject and determined this subject worthy of further exploration. Many researchers have delved deeply into this subject; the general synapses of many of these research studies indicate that a family’s socioeconomic status of the student has a high correlation to test score results.

This leads one to ask “what is socioeconomic status?” According to Wikipedia, this is an analysis of a family’s household income, wealth, education level and occupation. The chart below, taken from the United States Census data, provides a quick look at some of these socioeconomic indicators for our community and region.

As stated above research has shown a correlation to socioeconomic status and test scores. However, correlation does not mean causation. The actual causes are that children in low socioeconomic households do not have the same resources as children from higher level households. This might include parents that devote time helping their children learn; in some cases having parents with the capability of assisting children with learning. Also, falling in this are the financial means to other learning possibilities that takes place due to personal economics. Poor families might not get to travel and learn geography first hand, witness culturally stimulating events such as museums nor even have access to the World Wide Web.

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Research also indicates that another cause of poor performance in school is at the peer level. Students that engage with other poor performing students, or students that drop out, tend to perform poorly as well and have a higher dropout rate. In other words, hanging out with a group of people with low expectations leads to poor results.

Then we might ask, how then do some communities that are similar to Pearl River County actually do well on standardized tests? Research indicates that setting high expectations is the key variable in predicting high scores on tests. Children from higher socioeconomic areas are expected to perform well. Their parents and peers all perform well; therefore, that is the norm. The challenge for any community that wants to improve school performance is to set the bar high for students; this means setting the bar high for the community.

Community leaders should strive to create an attractive business climate, recruit higher paying industries and establish policy that can result in the community rising above the rest. If we are to place higher expectations on our students then we should certainly place high expectations on our community.