Sunday, July 7, 2013

More Stats Illustrate: U.S. Student Test Score Gap is Reflection of Class and Poverty

Privatizers are at war with teachers, attacking them for all that is wrong with education. They, and their media enablers do not consider other factors that enter the picture and influence student performance. First of all, people should consider that there are certain privileges that come with affluence or being of a relatively upper social class. Conversely, there are great stresses that come with living in poverty. Parent opponents of high-stakes test are recognizing the poverty factor.
It is in this context that we can introduce the following tables. The first shows a clear pattern: lower incidence of poverty, higher test scores. In lower poverty districts in the United States we see performance in the famous Programme for Insternational Student Assessment (PISA) that is comparable to nations that perform at the top of PISA student test score comparisons. Notably, with increasing rates of poverty, the U.S. districts' PISA scores fall.
Country Percent of reduced school lunches (U.S.); Percent of relative child poverty (Other O.E.C.D. countries) PISA score, 2009 reading literacy tests
United States 10% 551
Finland 3.4% 536
Netherlands 9.0% 508
Belgium 6.7% 506
United States 10% - 24.9% 527
Canada 13.6% 524
New Zealand 16.3% 524
Japan 14.3% 520
Australia 11.6% 515
United States 25% - 49.9% 502
Estonia 40.1%> 501
United States 50% - 74.9% 471
Russian Federation 58.3% 459
United States > 75% 446
(Source: Wikipedia article, "Programme for International Student Assessment" )

Such a pattern may again be discerned in a comparison of lower income inequality rates of higher performing countries in PISA tests, as compared to PISA math test score results in the United States and other high income disparity nations. The index for income inequality is the Gini index, pegged to the Gini coefficient, with income disparity data from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), with mainly figures for the latter half from the 2000s decade. A lower figure in the Gini index indicates less income disparity. Of the top 25 countries by Gross Domestic Product, according to the United Nations, for 2011, only two countries had greater income disparity than the United States.
Country PISA score, 2009 math test Gini index, per CIA
Finland 541 26.8
Switzerland 534 29.6
Japan 529 37.6
Canada 527 32.1
Netherlands 526 30.9
New Zealand 519 36.2
United States 487 45.0
Russia 468 41.7
Turkey 445 40.2
Bulgaria 428 45.3
Uruguay 427 45.3
Argentina 388 45.8
(Sources: Wikipedia articles, "Programme for International Student Assessment" , "List of countries by income equality")

When teachers are threatened with termination and losing their state license to teach (as in New York City's new evaluation system whereby ineffective in the test-based 20 percent can deem a teacher ineffective overall --see these references, 1, 2, 3), and when the other countries in the above tables do not use student test scores in teacher evaluation algorithms or career advancement, as I reported last month in "International Studies of Teacher Evaluation: Student Tests Seldom Cited, Portfolios Carry More Weight", we should challenge the tying of student test scores to teacher rewards and punishments. Teachers should expect their unions to challenge the centrality of the scores as the Buffalo Teachers Federation has done, instead of endorsing such plans as the United Federation of Teachers leaders have done.