Are Colo. School Districts Really Doing Better on New Global Report Card?

When confronted with the question of how well our schools are doing, too often we lack the full context needed to compare and understand what knowledge and skills students are acquiring to be strong citizens, competent workers, and trailblazing entrepreneurs for the next generation. Last year I told you about the Global Report Card, which found an effective way to compare the performance of school districts across America with national and international benchmarks.

This week the George W. Bush Institute launched GRC version 2.0 with fresh data from 2009. Taking a look at the data, Atlantic senior editor Jennie Rothenberg Gritz asks “How Does Your Child’s School Rank Against the Rest of the World?” She examines a couple districts as an example to frame the question:

Say you live in Santa Cruz, California. It’s a relatively affluent district, and by state standards, Santa Cruz City High scores in the 62nd percentile for reading and 59th for math. But when you rank the school against the rest of the developed world, it drops into the 50th percentile for reading and the 39th for math. Up the coast a bit, Palo Alto Unified ranks nearly 30 points higher in each area. But even those numbers are discouraging — if one of the wealthiest and most reputable districts in America, right in the cradle of Silicon Valley, can’t break the 70th percentile in math, what does that say about the rest of the country?

Ok, then, definitely room for improvement. So what about Colorado? Searching through last year’s edition, my Education Policy Center friends found four of the state’s 10 largest districts ranked ahead of the international average mathematically in 2007 — with Douglas County topping the charts at the 60th percentile.

An interesting quirk of the data or what, I don’t know. But nearly every one of the 10 largest Colorado districts shows up exactly 5 percentile points higher on the new report card (2009 data) than the previously. How much is attributable to improvements in learning math for Colorado students, as opposed to real or statistical adjustments, I don’t know.

But let’s take an optimistic assessment. Given the newly-released findings reported by Ed News Colorado — that our state’s 8th-graders at least poked above national and international averages on the TIMSS test — that approach has some merit. However, given where Colorado stands compared to the world leaders, there’s still plenty of room to aim higher.

One final note on international comparisons: Matt Ladner offered up a celebratory fist bump with the news that Florida 4th graders rank right among the world leaders of Hong Kong, Finland, and Singapore. It’s getting harder and harder all the time to argue with the Sunshine State’s education reform success.