Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Off the Charts

Charts and graphs tell stories — many stories.

The Oregonian looked at the just released results of SAT scores for the Class of 2007 and wrote a story accompanied by a chart and a graph.

Here is the story and here are the chart and the graph, which, unfortunately, weren't presented on OregonLive. You can click on my scan to make the chart and graph larger.

Before "reading" the graphic stories, it's worth noting that the bar graph starts at a score of 450 as its base. Ed Tufte, who has written extensively about graphic integrity, calls this lying with graphics. Show the full range when you depict results, he says, otherwise your portrayal is a visual distortion.

Using the distorted parameters of the graph and applying data from the chart to it, two Portland High Schools, Jefferson and Roosevelt, are literally off-the-charts — way off the charts. They fall well below the 450 base.

To me, that poor SAT performance is a major story, along with the fact that such a small percentage of students are even taking the SAT at these two high-minority enrollment schools. Franklin and Marshall also have startlingly low SAT participation.

I'm obviously not the reporter on this story, but the results and participation for these schools suggest a call the Portland Public School District.

I have also pencil marked Lincoln's scores (the highest) and Wilson's (of particular interest to Hillsdale). The difference in combined average scores for Lincoln (where 82 percent of the students took the test) and Jefferson (where a mere 28 percent took the test) is a stunning 662 points.

What other stories suggest themselves? One has to do with gross disparity between our high schools. Another has to do with college aspirations and academic preparation to achieve those goals. Do students at Jefferson and Roosevelt want to go on to college? Some do, and apparently many don't. If they don't, why? If they do, why have so many seemingly given up trying? Or if they are among those trying by taking the SAT, why are they doing so poorly?

My guess is that peer values and norms as well as expectations and financial resources are huge influences. Oh, and add media stereotyping and celebrity role models to the mix.

That's just for starters. Clearly, there is a whole lot more going on, and it isn't pretty.

I also want to know how these statistics from the best performing and the poorest performing schools have changed from the previous year. Is the gap widening? Did Jefferson improve or decline from 2006? The story by Suzanne Pardington mentioned improvement at only one high school, Oregon City.

I hope that The Oregonian plans to report on the other "news" contained in these results.

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