Family income a factor affecting MSPAP scores Study: A study for the Abell Foundation finds that impoverished children are more likely to test poorly than their upper-class counterparts.

The Education Beat

August 12, 1998|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

THE URBANOLOGIST David Rusk has confirmed what we've been saying all along: It's the money, stupid.

Analyzing the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program for the Abell Foundation, Rusk notes the striking relationship between the pass rate on MSPAP and students' family income.

The correlation, Rusk says, is .81. This means 81 percent of the variation in test scores among the 213 elementary schools in Baltimore city and county is "explained" by each school's percentage of low-income children.

Not by race. Not by phonics or whole language, not by the background or training of teachers, although some of these may play minor roles. The fact is that the economic background of students, over which educators have no control, is the primary determinant of school achievement.

In short, as Rusk points out, MSPAP is a reliable test of family income. It's only to insert tongue part way into cheek to suggest the state could save millions by scrapping MSPAP and ranking schools by parents' income.

What does this mean for how we judge schools?

Riderwood Elementary in the county ought to -- and does -- have good test scores; its poverty rate is less than 3 percent. Charles Carroll of Carrollton in the city ought to -- and does -- have poor scores; its poverty rate is 87 percent. But more remarkable are the very few schools that are "overachievers," that defy their predictors.

Rusk notes the county's Middlesex and the city's Patapsco, two elementary schools where the pass rate on MSPAP last year was much higher than would have been predicted. Conversely, the county's Orems and the city's Violetville were "underachievers."

Educators and policy-makers have known of the relationship of achievement and income for decades. For the most part, the relationship holds true from pre-kindergarten to graduate school.

For example, a national report issued last week found that among students who score well on standardized tests and take rigorous high school courses, those from impoverished backgrounds are less likely to go to college than those from high-income families. Ours is not a meritocracy. Those who work hard don't always succeed, especially if they're poor.

Three years ago, the Abell Foundation published Rusk's "Baltimore Unbound," in which he proposed several measures, including regional revenue sharing, to attack economic disparities. Rusk says there has been "slow progress" on his proposals, that much work has to be done and that economic segregation has increased in Maryland urban areas since 1995.

Proposal would filter cigarette taxes to education

Question: What does the anti-tobacco campaign known as the Maryland Children's Initiative have to do with education? Answer: If the legislation is enacted, the schools will get about $100 million a year, most of it to reduce class size across the state.

Maryland is unique in targeting at education the revenue from the proposed $1.50 per pack increase in cigarette taxes, according to Vincent DeMarco, executive director of the initiative.

Although we'd like to see a greater proportion going specifically to reading improvement, there's a certain moral satisfaction in seeing proceeds from a sin tax directed at public schools. (Another portion would be spent on after-school and day care programs.) Children got little enough from the lotteries that built Baltimore a shiny new football stadium.

The deadline for candidates to sign the initiative pledge is nine days away. Meanwhile, our candidate for best anti-smoking billboard is this one, spotted by a reader:

"Your parents do it. How cool can it be?"

Survey compares habits of 1967, 1997 collegiates

For back to school, Best Buy, the electronics super store, surveyed college freshmen last year and their counterparts in 1967. Among the findings of the "Freshman Flashback":

Freshmen in 1967 claim they studied harder and partied more than freshmen of 1997.

Student loans are the primary way of paying for college today, but in 1967 most students worked to pay their college expenses. Parents paid 22 percent of the bill both years.

Nearly a third of freshmen last year took more than 50 CDs with them to college. In 1967, a large majority of students (68 percent) took no more than 10 record albums. Big hit of fall 1967: "Ode to Billie Joe," by Bobbie Gentry. Big hit of fall 1997: "Mo Money Mo Problems," by Notorious B.I.G.

Pub Date: 8/12/98

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