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A grant-funded program’s purpose was to help students who are not proficient in math pass a required algebra course so they could graduate on time.  Edstar was to evaluate the effectiveness of this program towards this objective.


A grant-funded program’s purpose was to help students who are not proficient in math pass a required algebra course so they could graduate on time.

The program director explained that he enrolled students whose last names sounded as if they are minorities, because minorities are known to be at risk of not being able to pass math courses. The program director had to set up the program not knowing how many students would need to be served. He explained that although he had a roster of names, he could not be sure all minority-sounding names were actually minority. For example, he thought the name Williams may be either Black and White. So, he didn’t think it is possible to know. Although student races are in the data files, he explained that he didn’t know how to use the electronic data and could only use the printed list of names.

He selected the students whose names really sound minority for sure. He didn’t check that they had low math scores or whether they had even already passed algebra. He was confident in the research that says that minority students are at risk of failing math. He reported to us that even if they were currently passing, because they are at risk, they could start failing at any time.

He used grant funds to allow the girls in the program to have their photos taken at Glamour Shots. He reported to us that the photos would boost their confidence, and confident people pass math more than people with no confidence. (This is real. This was a 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant in a high school.)

Beliefs and Skills of the Program Manager

B1. Cause and Effect:   Thinks innovative ideas are creative and they’ve been funded in the past, so it’s good to think outside the box. Assumes confidence in one area will cause success in another area.

B3. What At-Risk Means: We should find the students who belong to subgroups with higher percentages of students who are below grade level. (Even if they are proficient, they are likely not to be later.)

S1. Knowing What Can Be Known: Thinks who is at-risk of failing algebra cannot be known because he doesn’t have access to student race data.

S2. How to Identify Kids to Align Services: Thinks we need to look at information on one kid at a time to produce a list of all kids who meet specific criteria.  (And, he’s not even looking at relevant data.)

S4. Skill Set Required for Working With Data: Although he thought he should use race to identify students at-risk of failing algebra, he did not have the skills for using a database that contained that variable, and did not know to ask someone for help. This was before the Data Wall fad. He just didn’t use data. Today, most likely, he believes a data-wall, made of paper posted across a wall is a great way to get information from education data.

The Outcome

We pulled pre-and post-academic data for the students who were served. More than half of them had already taken algebra and passed it. Of the students who had not already passed algebra, two-thirds had always scored above grade level in math and had not been at-risk of failing algebra. The remaining one-third failed algebra. The glamour shots had no affect at all on passing algebra. The Program Director argued that the glamour shots were effective because nearly everyone in the program passed algebra even though they were minorities. He went on to run another grant-funded program that we evaluated and he enrolled students the same way in it.

Students in the program were viewed as “at-risk” simply because they were in the program.  They became less successful in school.