This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 4, 2012 - Data available for the first time have confirmed what officials in charge of the area’s voluntary school transfer program have generally thought: Black students who leave St. Louis to attend suburban schools under the deseg program do better on standardized tests than their counterparts in the city.
Plus, the numbers suggest, the program isn’t draining talented students from the city because scores on MAP tests are pretty much the same for the youngest African-American children who transfer from the city compared with those who remain. So while such students may start at the same academic level, the so-called MAP gap appears after they have been in their county classrooms for a while.
David Glaser, who is chief executive of the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corp., or VICC, said he was not surprised by the numbers, which represented the first time that MAP data had been disaggregated to include only VICC students who transfer from the city to St. Louis County.
“The results were very, very similar to prior studies,” he said. “The main difference was that achievement was slightly lower for VICC students than it was when you include all African-American students.
“But that’s not surprising because if you take the African-American students who live in Rockwood, for example, they are probably coming from a higher socioeconomic status than the kids coming from the city, so they are were pushing the scores up a little bit.”
The report -- which is made up of numbers from the state education department, with an index compiled by VICC -- includes several cautions.
“No attempt is being made to assess any black-white achievement gap,” it says, “or do any other analysis across racial lines. Instead the focus is on the single issue of whether or not participating in the transfer program appears to make a difference in student achievement.”
Also, it says, “This is a very general analysis and many variables (such as student turnover, length of time in transfer program/current district, socioeconomic status, education level of parents, etc.) may influence the results. However, because of funding and data availability limitations, no attempt was made to control for such variables. Instead, the MAP index scores were simply taken in total as they were available and used without adjustment or statistical validation.”
Besides finding that average MAP scores for transfer students are higher than for black students who remain in the St. Louis Public Schools, the report said the difference is relatively consistent in grades 4-8.
It is smaller in grade three, probably because students have been in county schools a shorter period of time, and smaller in high school, possibly because of higher dropout rates in city schools that eliminated the scores of many students whose numbers would be lower.
However, the study noted, because county districts have tended in recent years to enroll city students in kindergarten or first grade, a gap in MAP scores between them and students of the same age in the city may begin to develop earlier.
New material begins here: Officials with St. Louis Public Schools have a different take on similar data.
Numbers released by the city schools last week -- comparing MAP scores of VICC students not to all African-American students in the city schools but only to the 7,558 attending city in magnet schools -- showed scores of the magnet school students ahead of those of the VICC students in a variety of grade levels and courses.
Overall, the city schools concluded, magnet school students exceed the county average in eight out of 12 cases where scores on MAP or end-of-course tests are compared.
City school officials said the comparison between VICC students and magnet school students is more valid because the VICC program sometimes rejects or ejects students with behavior problems; that requirement would make the VICC scores tend to be higher, city school officials said.
Glaser, at VICC, said that so far this year, applications of 62 students out of more than 2,500 had been rejected for behavior reasons. end new material
Discussing the results in an interview with the Beacon, Glaser noted that the voluntary transfer program began not as an effort to improve academic achievement but as an effort to reduce segregation in St. Louis County schools.
But, he pointed out, because thousands of students have gone through the program since it began in the 1980s, and applications continue to outpace the number of spaces available, families must feel they are getting something worthwhile.
“If parents didn’t feel like their kids were getting a better education,” he said, “they wouldn’t be motivated to have their kids get on the bus and ride an hour to school and an hour back. If they weren’t getting anything academically, why would they do it?”
Glaser emphasized that he is not using the VICC students’ scores to discount the education provided by the city schools.
“I recognize that the St. Louis Public Schools are working very hard and working very diligently to improve their achievement,” he said. “I have the greatest respect for Dr. (Kelvin) Adams, and the work he and his staff are doing, and I think over time their performance is improving and will continue to improve. They definitely are making progress.”
With increased uncertainty among city families about where their students can go to school – Imagine charters shut down, the Turner ruling closing off the possibility of transferring to St. Louis County, at least for now – Glaser is pleased with the continued interest in the voluntary deseg option.
For the coming school year, he said, the program has about 3,000 applications for about 750 available spaces, in addition to the 5,500 students already enrolled. He said county districts that are still accepting students are beginning to make a few more spaces available.
“I interpret that as a compliment to the VICC program,” he said. “The county districts are comfortable with the VICC program. They see how it works. They know VICC is going to be there and we are going to be able to provide them the financial reimbursement they are counting on.”
And, he noted, the program offers more than just enhanced academics, for city students and county students alike.
Glaser said he has pointed that advantage out to his own children. They live in Rockwood, where he said the African-American resident population is only about 2 percent.
“Obviously, that’s not the real world,” he said. “So when they graduate from high school and go to college and go off and get a job later in life, they will be working in an environment that is quite a bit different from the world they are living in now. There are some benefits besides academics in attending schools that are more diverse.”
Besides having black students who move from the city to the county, VICC also facilitates the movement of white students in St. Louis County to magnet schools in the city. But that part of the program has involved far fewer students, only about 100 this year.
No figures are available to show the academic effect of those transfers, similar to the newly aggregated data of city-to-county students, for a number of reasons – it would be difficult to find a group to compare them to, and if a subgroup of students has 30 members or fewer, state officials will not release data for fear the numbers could be traced back to pinpoint the performance of individual students.