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Stanford study finds poverty and school quality not linked

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  • A major study from Stanford University recently found
    socioeconomic status was no indication of a given school’s
  • The truly important measure for school effectiveness
    was the rate at which students were making improvements on test
  • The findings defy the typical assumptions about what
    makes a great public school.

For many parents, judging a local public school comes down to
average test scores and the amount of money going into that

A new Stanford University
of test scores from 45 million students, who populate
the approximately 11,000 US public school districts, upends that
set of assumptions.

The study found no correlation between a given district’s
socioeconomic status and the average test scores of its students.
According to Stanford sociologist Sean Reardon, the smartest way
to measure a school’s effectiveness was to instead look at the
students’ rate of improvement over time, as measured by
their standardized tests.

“There are many relatively high-poverty school districts
where students appear to be learning at a faster rate than kids
in other, less poor districts,” Reardon
in a statement. “Poverty clearly does not determine the
quality of a school system.”

Reardon first gathered data on third-grade test scores, reasoning
that kids performed roughly according to their family’s level of
wealth. “Affluent families and districts are able to provide much
greater opportunities than poor ones early in children’s lives,”
he wrote in the report.

Then he crunched the numbers on approximately 45 million test
scores, from third- through eighth-graders in nearly every US
school district. Surprisingly, Reardon found no correlation
between how wealthy a district was and whether its kids were
making outsized leaps in achievement.

In many cases, students in poor communities started with low test
scores, but their scores rose much faster over the years than
kids in wealthier areas. In high-poverty Chicago schools, for
instance, students completed six years of material on average in
just five years’ time.

“Chicago students start out with low test scores in third
grade, but their growth rate is much higher than the national
average — 20% higher,” Reardon said in a statement. “That is true
for all racial and ethnic groups in the district.”

The findings should help both parents and school districts,
Reardon argued in his report.

Parents can use the information to better select schools for
their kids. Instead of focusing on how high the test scores are
or how big the school’s budget is, they can focus on the test
score improvement rate — the students’ trajectory — to gauge
whether a school is effective.

Districts can do their part by providing that information to
parents, Reardon said. They can become better advocates for
lower-income schools if those schools can boast high growth

That argument in favor of public schools runs counter to much of
what the Trump administration has sought to communicate over the
past year — namely, that public schools are inefficient compared
to a privatized model. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

has compared school choice
to picking between an Uber and a
yellow cab.

Reardon wants to present a new way of thinking about schools,
based on the best available testing data.

“You might find parents ranking communities differently if
they weren’t relying on average test scores,” he said in a
statement, “which are highly correlated with socioeconomic

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