Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sample size and more than meets the eye...

Erin Dillon over at the The Quick and the Ed points out how Walt Whitman High School, an otherwise strong school, had an atrocious pass rate for African Americans in Algebra on the Maryland High School Assessment exam. Only 33% of Walt Whitman's Walt Whitman's African Americans passed in 2006, down from 38.5% in 2005 and 55.6% in 2004. Of course what Erin fails to mention, is that there are only 15 African American students at Walt Whitman High School. In fact, since 2002 exactly 5 African Americans have passed the Algebra test. The only difference is that the number of African Americans taking the test has varied from 9 to 17. If we look at data from 2003, it now appears as if Walt Whitman has increased its African American pass rate from by 4%. How did I find out this information... hours and hours of exhaustive research... no... I just hit the detail button on the chart that Erin linked to. Now I'm not expert at statistics, but it seems to me that this is a tiny sample size to make an informed judgment on. I am a firm believer in making education decisions based on numbers and research, but even a layman like me can see that you need a large enough sample of students to make these decisions. Perhaps Walt Whitman is neglecting its African American students but then again, perhaps Walt Whitman is just a victim of a statistical blip.

3 comments:

rightwingprof said...

I wouldn't attribute it to dishonesty, given the utter ignorance educrats have of statistics.

rory said...

Actually I didn't think Erin was being dishonest, just a bit lazy. I have noticed that educrats are very whishy washy about using statistics. They use them when they like the results, ignore them when they dont.

History Dude aka Mr. D said...

I find it interesting that Walt Whitman H.S. is located in Mongomery County Maryland, one of the most politically liberal counties in the United States. It's sometimes refered to as the "Harvard of Highs Schools". Universities across the country compete for Whitman students because of its reputation. After reading these statistics, I can assume the following: Wealthy white liberals live in a segrated community and send their kids to a school that has only 15 African-American students? I guess it is the Harvard of high schools.