Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Numbers and Their Meaning

The organization I work for uses a lot of numbers and statistics. After all, it is due to some sobering and unfair statistics that the organization exists at all, for example: low income students are almost 30% less likely to enroll in college as their wealthier peers, every year there are 200,000 low income student who graduate from high school and are capable of going to college but do not go, and, in a 2005 article I just found, only 6% of low income students can expect to earn a bachelor's degree by age 24, compared to 51% average nationally.

It is only logical, then, that since we base our existence on statistics, we must be able to show statistics that prove our effectiveness. The amount of numbers floating around my head and our organization-wide friday meetings is overwhelming: number of students, rate of reliability for rsvps for a college visit, number of schools applied to, amount of scholarship money received, average baseline score, percentage increased, number of students enrolled, number of students dropped... the list goes on and on.

Yesterday, a new set of numbers came out: ACT 2 scores and percentage increase from baseline scores. With 82% of my 41 students tested, they've had a 7.7% score increase. Victoria, of course, blew me out of the water with 97% (functionally 100%) of her students achieving a 13% score increase. In a desperate attempt not to feel like such a loser, I began breaking my numbers down into more numbers. 22 of my students increased their scores with an average of an 18% increase. Six of my student got the same scores. 5 of my student's scores decreased an average of 11%, and I have one outlier, we'll deal with him later. Before I knew it I had a major excel document with every students baseline and ACT2 score and their score increase/decrease percentage color coded by percent attendance. It was getting a little scary.

With all of these numbers floating around in my head, I went to session and began having brief check-in meetings with each of my students, and it was then, cheesily, that I realized that my statistics, no matter how specific, broken down, high, or low, could never do justice to the experiences of my students. No percent could make me more happy than the smile on my student's face who improved from an 11 to a 17, or more determined to solve the mystery of my incredibly attentive student who dropped from a 16 to a 12, or more proud of my ridiculously high achiever who started with a 28 and has made it a goal to improve by 2 points every practice test and might actually do it, or more frustrated with the student who overslept and went from a 6 to a 10 on his reading section but got 1's on English and Math because he completely missed those sections.

So while I might sit here wishing that 7.7% score increase could be just a few percentage points higher, I must constantly strive to remember that the 7.7% is actually 41 different stories of happiness, triumph, frustration, determination, confusion, sadness, hope, and faith, each one as statistically significant as the next.

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