As mentioned in the Introduction, the data source for my research was the 2006 Illinois School Report Cards that every public school in Illinois must submit annually to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). I identified 18 environmental characteristics to study. Conveniently, half of them were of the type I categorized as controllable and half were non-controllable. For the purposes of this study, controllable factors are aspects of the school environment that the school's administration can exhibit partial or full control over. By contrast, non-controllable factors are aspects of the school environment that the school's administration exhibits no control over. Here are the controllable and non-controllable factors I examined in this study.
To analyze the controllable and non-controllable factors I used Microsoft® Excel® 2003. Excel has a data analysis package that contains several analysis tools including regression analysis. Excel's regression analysis tool can analyze up to 16 independent variables simultaneously. Since it was not possible to analyze all 18 factors at the same time, I decided to divide the analysis into two categories. I separated them into controllable and non-controllable factors that might influence the 8th grade ISAT math passing percentage. Analyzing the controllable and non-controllable factors separately allowed me to uncover the from each category that exhibited a link to the 8th grade ISAT math passing percentage. Controllable Factors The controllable factors that had an influence on the 8th grade ISAT math passing percentage were: 1. The pupil-to-teacher ratio 2. The average class size 3. The minutes of math instruction per day 4. The percentage of teachers with M.A.s or higher 5. The average administrator salary Non-Controllable Factors The non-controllable factors that had an influence on the 8th grade ISAT math passing percentage were: 1. The percentage of black students 2. The percentage of Hispanic students 3. The percentage of low-income students 4. The student mobility rate 5. The student attendance rate
After the first two analyses, five controllable and five non-controllable factors were flagged as having an influence on the 8th grade ISAT math passing percentage. It is obvious however that the controllable and non-controllable factors are not isolated from each other. To understand the real nature of the factors that affect a school's performance, we must analyze the school report cards with the influential controllable and non-controllable factors combined. Thus the final analysis involved combining the influential controllable and non-controllable factors together to determine which one or ones truly influenced the 8th grade ISAT math passing percentage. And the winner is... . Indeed, out of the 18 factors I examined the singular factor, pupil-to-teacher ratio, proved to be the only one that was significantly related to the 8th grade ISAT math passing percentage.The Pupil-to-Teacher RatioPupil-to-Teacher RatioBefore offering some suggestions as to why the pupil-to-teacher ratio shows a significant correlation to the 8th grade ISAT math passing percentage, it is important to understand what the pupil-to-teacher ratio is (and is not). Persons not familiar with today's school systems might think of pupil-to-teacher ratio as meaning the same as class size. These two metrics may or may not be the same. For example, a classroom with one teacher and 24 students has a pupil-to-teacher ratio of 24-to-1 (24:1). This same classroom has class size of 24. However, if this class has a co-teacher, other certified staff, or paraprofessional, then the pupil-to-teacher ratio is 12-to-1 (12:1). The class size is still 24. In today's school systems it is not uncommon to have classrooms with more than one certified educator. For various reasons, a classroom may have two or more certified educators and/or paraprofessionals. Generally these additional educators are "assigned" to specific students on their caseload however, their expertise is rarely exclusive to their caseload. These selfless professionals help were they are needed and make a huge difference in the classroom. So why is pupil-to-teacher ratio a significant indicator of a school's 8th grade ISAT math passing percentage? In itself, this may be a difficult question to answer. Almost certainly there are numerous reasons supporting this postulated relationship. Allow me to offer some possible reasons. Family StructureThe number of single parent households is not an insignificant figure. According to the US Census Bureau, the 1990 census showed that 23% of all family households were single-parent families. Parents in single-parent households are almost certainly going to have less time to devote to their children, especially when it comes to helping them with homework. Parents in single-parent households also tend to have lower educational levels themselves which is arguably a disadvantage to their children. Home Study TimeThe inexorable march of technology is, in many cases, the enemy of study time. In the pre-cell phone and Internet days, parents might have admonished their kids to "turn the TV off and do your homework." Today, kids have a plethora of tantalizing distractions they can choose from including video games, computer games, text and instant messaging, the Internet ala Facebook, music share websites, etc., and the ubiquity of cell phones. Without unwaivering home study rules, kids are helpless to the allure of these time sappers. Some teachers I have spoken to admit that they give less homework these days because an ever increasing percentage of students simply do not complete their homework assignments at home. These teachers feel some students benefit more by completing at least some of the practice assignments while in the controlled, structured environment of the classroom. These are just a few of the reasons I believe that having more educators in the classroom is significantly correlated to 8th grade ISAT math passing percentages. Because math is more procedural than most other curricular areas, success is largely dependent on practice and skill building. It takes time to encourage, review, correct, and guide students to effectively practice and sharpen their skills. One teacher with 24 students in a 45 minute class period will be able to offer less than one-minute-per-student once the classroom management issues are handled and the assignment is explained and demonstrated. Adding one additional educator to this classroom can triple the time spent with each student. Since the adjunct teacher's time is not used on classroom management or other issues, nearly 100% of their time can be devoted to one-on-one help with students. And although three minutes of concentrated teacher time doesn't sound like a lot, it might be infinitely more than the student is likely to get at home. Please feel free to contact me at jtomczak@ISATMathStudy.com. |