Beyond Test Scores: Other Factors in School Success
Vaccinations, teacher absenteeism, among lesser-followed data
School test scores are a measure of the test taking aptitude of the students enrolled there, not of the quality of the school. Yet those scores — published and widely followed — persuade some mostly well-to-do families to relocate within certain schools’ boundaries. And those families, by virtue of being well-to-do, motivated about their kids’ education and often well-educated, yield those same schools more good test takers.
We’re not here today to talk you out of your high-ranking school, or into one. But it’s worth thinking beyond test scores, to other measures of success in childhood education — including your child’s safety and choice of teacher.
Vaccination compliance. Looking ahead to in-person school attendance after the pandemic, what are the odds your child’s classmates will have been vaccinated against coronavirus? Your best clue may be in the existing vaccination coverage in the area.
To provide protection against infection, the World Health Organization recommends a school achieve a 95% vaccination rate against measles. In Arkansas, according to data compiled by the Wall Street Journal, 99% of schools fail to reach that level. In nearby Illinois, most schools surpass it.
There’s no need to unknowingly expose your child or family to this kind of risk. You can find the immunization rate of your local school here, via the Wall Street Journal’s infographic tool: https://www.wsj.com/graphics/school-measles-rate-map/
The map doesn’t cover every state. State and county health departments may be able to fill in the blanks. Ideally, data should be available from every school district.
A great teacher — who shows up. After months of remote learning, many kids are desperate to return to in-class, face-to-face teaching. But even a great teacher can’t do much for your child if they aren’t at work. According to data from the Education Department analyzed by the Brookings Institute, during the 2015-16 academic year, nearly 29% of teachers were “chronically absent,” missing 10 or more school days.
Unsurprisingly, teacher absence is correlated with lower student test scores. Anyone recall a substitute teacher crushing it in algebra? Not likely. You can read all about teacher (and student) absenteeism and its effects here: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2020/01/27/we-should-be-focusing-on-absenteeism-among-teachers-not-just-students/
Though most states don’t release teacher attendance data, Rhode Island has factored it in to their school evaluation system, with 2019’s data available here: https://www.ride.ri.gov/InsideRIDE/AdditionalInformation/News/ViewArticle/tabid/408/ArticleId/631/RIDE-Releases-2019-School-Accountability-Results.aspx
As your child’s advocate, inquiring about teacher absenteeism generally, and specifically about the teacher your child is assigned to, is a reasonable question. If the school won’t tell you, ask other parents whose kids have had the teacher. A chronically absent instructor is something many parents will remember.
Teacher demographics. Many schools won’t permit parents to request particular teachers. But there’s a wealth of data on what makes for a particularly effective educator. One paper, from the American Economic Review, suggests it may be worthwhile seeking out a demographically similar teacher, especially for students of color. The odds of a student being perceived as disruptive, for instance, are 1.36 times larger when teacher and student do not share the same race or ethnicity, and 1.38 times larger for students and teachers of different genders.
Female and minority-ethnicity students were especially likely to be labeled as inattentive. Even if you can’t steer clear of a teacher, being aware of the statistics around this issue can help you if and when conflict arises: https://www.jstor.org/stable/4132809?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
For girls in particular, having a teacher of the same gender seems to be an advantage. In South Korea, where students are randomly allocated a teacher in middle school, a recent study from the Journal of Human Resources found that having a female teacher substantially increased female students’ standardized test scores even five years later. (For boys, having a female teacher had a small negative effect.) Having a female math teacher in particular seemed to encourage girls to take math in the future.
For math, having the right teacher at the right time could have enormous, life-long effects. A Danish study, published in the Journal of Human Resources, found that students who had taken high-level math courses earned 30% more than their peers 13 years after high school.
Women role models in higher education have similar power to inspire females. Female cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy who have female instructors for introductory science and math courses are more likely to persist and succeed in those fields. Even a single presentation on economics by a woman, according to a study from Southern Methodist University, resulted in more female students choosing to take courses or major in economics.