Location matters for gauging algebra scores
WASHINGTON U.-ST. LOUIS (US) — States should look beyond district lines and take into account local variations when assessing student performance, experts say.
A new study suggests that educational data such as test scores too often are analyzed by comparing differences between schools or districts when district lines are often arbitrary.
A child living on Main Street likely is not that different from a child a block away, yet those two students may be notably different from those 20 miles away in a small rural school, according to findings by William Tate, chair of the education department at Washington University in St. Louis, and Mark Hogrebe, an institutional researcher in the department.
Students who perform well in algebra are able to progress to higher-level math courses that often are necessary for a host of college courses and career fields, while students who can’t master it are foreclosed from such opportunities. (Credit: mfhiatt/Flickr)
A more logical approach is to see how locations across the state vary in educational contexts and to study how different ecologies affect academic outcomes. The article, published in the Journal of Mathematics Education at Teachers College, concludes that place matters in analyzing relationships between algebra performance and other educational variables.
For example, the researchers studied whether a higher percentage of children in poverty was related to lower algebra scores, and whether higher teacher salaries meant higher algebra scores. They found those relationships held true in some districts but not across the board.
Algebra was a logical subject to study, Tate says, because in American schools, it’s often viewed as a gateway course. That is, students who perform well in it are able to progress to higher-level math courses that often are necessary for a host of college courses and career fields, while students who can’t master it are foreclosed from such opportunities.
Also, in Missouri at least, students take a statewide assessment exam, providing large amounts of comparable data. Hogrebe and Tate found that a single, global measurement based on aggregated data doesn’t properly account for important local variations. “There need to be location-specific solutions,” Tate says.
Hogrebe and Tate say some of their research would not have been possible even 10 or 12 years ago, but thanks to advances in technology, they were able to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data and computer models to analyze relationships between various educational factors on a regional basis.
Policies are unlikely to help students or be cost-effective if they apply the same response statewide, the researchers found. “The evidence suggests that’s not a good way of doing education policy-making,” Tate says.
The researchers hope their work helps inform education policy and guide lawmakers and others as they determine the best use of scarce resources.
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