What’s the science behind the differences in these two schools?

This quarter I have spent approximately every other week in my main placement, a first grade class, and I have also had opportunities to spend time working one on one with a third grader in literacy, co-teach and assist with second grade science classes, and have “math talks” a few times with a small group of fifth graders.  These experiences have been in three different schools within two different school districts, but all located less than ten miles from one another.

Interestingly, the school where my main placement is, which I’ll call school #1, and the school where I spent time in 3rd grade literacy and 2nd grade science, which I’ll call school #2, have drastically different scores in science on the state MSP test even though they are in the same school district (53.7% for school #1 and 93.1% for school #2). I am curious as to why and can theorize that this difference is possibly due to my hearing that the Principal of school #2 loves science and encourages every class to participate in science learning at least one full hour a week, preferably more. However, I have not had an opportunity to hear Principal of school #1’s views; I have only observed that first graders do science in spurts, several days during some weeks and then not at all other weeks.  Another explanation could have something to do with the differing demographics of the two schools.  Both schools are comprised of about 30% Asian, 10% Hispanic, and 60% white students.  At school #1, 30% of the students receive free or reduced lunch, and 14.5% of the students are considered transitional bilingual.  At school #2 only 8.8% students receive free or reduced lunch and only 4.4% are considered transitional bilingual.  Another factor at school #2 is a portion of the students in the district’s “gifted” program are housed at this school; whereas none of the students at school #1 are participants in the program.  (I am not sure what percentage of school #2 students are in the gifted or highly capable program, but the majority of the students are not). 

So much of what we read about student achievement in education correlates students’ success with high family income.  Is this true?  In this case, students do not APPEAR to be drastically different, but clearly the statistics show they are as some are still learning the English language and some need public assistance to pay for their meals.  Is this the difference, or does the difference lie with how much the school community values science? Or, is it possible that teachers at school #2 are more effective science teachers?


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