Study: Preuss School students do not outperform some peers

Preuss School students did not perform statistically better on standardized tests or post significant improvements in grades compared to those students who applied to the campus-run charter school but were not admitted, according to a comparison study done last year.

Last year, 90 percent of the school’s first graduating class received offers of admission from four-year universities — the majority from UC campuses and prestigious private schools like Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However, when contrasted with a group of students with similar socioeconomic backgrounds who applied to the school, the spring 2004 study indicated that there were few statistical differences between the groups.

“On the California standardized tests, students in the 10th grade at Preuss School and the comparison group recorded nearly identical scores,” the study states.

Founded in 1999 as a UCSD-administered charter middle and high school, the Preuss School is designed to increase diversity in higher education. The school is made up of mostly underrepresented minorities.

The Preuss School mission is “to improve educational practices and provide an intensive college preparatory school for low-income student populations, which are historically underrepresented on the campuses of the University of California.”

Students are admitted to Preuss School via lottery. To be eligible for the lottery, they must qualify for a school low-income meal-assistance program, come from a family with no college graduates and have good academic standing.

Conducted by the university’s Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence, the study compared Preuss’ current students to other applicants who met the school’s entrance criteria but were not selected to attend. The study found no significant differences between the two groups’ performances on an annual state exam or high school grades.

“What the analysis shows so far is that Preuss students have about the same GPA as the control group, and test scores that are the same or, in a few subjects, significantly higher,” said economics professor Julian Betts, who serves on the Preuss School Board of Directors and helped to create the study.

The study noted that Preuss students performed markedly better on the history portion of the state exam and had completed more required college-preparatory courses by the 10th grade.

“The comparisons about course-taking reveals some significant differences, but the standardized course results are not significantly different,” Preuss School Principal Doris Alvarez said.

Betts explained that the study compared Preuss students and applicants instead of doing a wider comparison to a random group of students within the same socioeconomic demographics. Therefore, the numbers may not reflect the achievement of average students, who may have diffferent levels of motivation and enthusiasm from that of all Preuss applicants, no matter where they actually attended, according to Betts.

“If we randomly selected students enrolled in the regular schools who had the same, say, background regarding race and parental education, it might not be a valid comparison group because we don’t know if these students have the same motivation, work ethic, etc., as students who actually applied to Preuss,” he stated in an e-mail. “Because the lottery is random, we have a control group that is not only closely matched on demographics but also closely matched on all unobservable characteristics.”

Logistical conditions for the study have made a wider comparison difficult, according to Cecil A. Lytle, Thurgood Marshall College provost and chair of the Preuss School Board of Directors.

“The C.R.E.A.T.E. team experienced imperfect data from San Diego Unified School District regarding the whereabouts and progress of the cohort group of students,” Lytle said. “By agreement, we rely heavily upon the local school district to track the cohort group, but it is the case that district records were spotty due to imperfections in their tracking system.”

Alvarez also said the methodology used in the study made its findings inconclusive.

“I feel the study compares so few students in the comparison group that it is not a very reliable method of comparison, yet I think we need a larger sampling before we can make a good analysis,” she said in an e-mail.

In any case, the school’s administration remains optimistic about what future studies will reveal, she said. C.R.E.A.T.E. will be able to do a more comprehensive study at the end of this year.

“By way of a recently approved grant, they will be capable of tracking the cohort group and not have to rely solely on the San Diego school district’s abilities to track the cohort,” Lytle said.

The study will also be able to compare the college attendance rates between Preuss students and the comparison group. Betts said he feels Preuss students should fare better in the new study.

“My expectation — and at this point, it really is just speculation — is that the students in the comparison group will have a quite impressive attendance pattern as well, because we know that they are highly motivated,” Betts said. “But on the basis of the gap in [course] completion rates we noticed for this cohort by the end of the grade 10, it stands to reason that Preuss students will have higher college-attendance rates.”