Analysis: Poverty Shows Up on Ga. School Report Cards

Kids from low income families tend to do worse in school than kids from high income families.

Whether that’s because they have more resources at home, or their parents spend more time with them, or they go on stimulating activities, who knows.

Brass tax: There is a direct relationship between family income and student performance.

Georgia’s new system for grading schools is far more complex than the one it replaces. Educators see it as an improvement in gauging performance at schools with high poverty rates.

But an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that the new system says as much about poverty as it does about academic performance. Poor schools got significantly lower grades than their more affluent counterparts, the newspaper found. The median grade of poor elementary schools was 15 points lower than the median grade of more affluent elementary schools. The median grade of poor middle and high schools was 14 points lower than the median grade of more affluent middle and high schools.



To boot, roughly 20 percent of schools that meet the Free or Reduced Lunch threshold to qualify for Title 1 funding (poor schools) scored over an 80 (or a B) on the state’s Single Score — a weighted average of CCRPI scores for the elementary, middle and high schools’ grade bands at each facility.

Conversely, roughly 80 percent of schools that did not meet that threshold — more affluent schools — scored above an 80.


When asked about the effect, if it’s demonstrable and real, Georgia State University doctoral student Jarod Apperson, who tracks education statistics through his blog, Grading Atlanta, says: Absolutely.

Earlier this month, he ran an analysis that (in the same spirit of the AJC’s) benchmarked the CCRPI data against Free/Reduced Lunch data.

“Oh, yeah, definitely,” Apperson says. “That’s why you saw a negative relationship in the graph that I put up. If there wasn’t still a relationship than that line would be flat, and instead it’s downward sloping — CCRPI scores decrease as the free and reduced lunch rate increases.”

That’s unsurprising, says one of his professors, who specializes in the economics of education at the University.

Understand, he says. Policymakers are in a precarious position.

If they create scores that take into account factors, such as students whose first language isn’t English, or children with disabilities, they’re taking away incentives for historically lower performing schools to excel.

Indeed, there are schools with high levels of children that receive free and reduced lunch that do unusually well on the CCRPI — conversely there are schools that appear, from the stats, to be more affluent, that suck.

“There are a couple reasons why, not just Georgia, but other states chose not to do that for their school accountability measures,” says that expert. “One is that when you put student characteristics in a  model, there is a concern by some that you are setting different standards for different students.

“So, for example, if you had student poverty in your model, then you are, in essence, at least some would argue, that you are setting a different standard in terms of learning expectations for students from low income families than students from more affluent families.”

To complete this analysis and provide information on elementary, middle and high schools the AJC merged the CCRPI scores with free-and-reduced-price lunch data for the corresponding school year. Some Georgia schools lump several grade-level clusters together; for example they might be grades 6-12 instead of the traditional 6-8 or 9-12 grade structure. In those instances, the newspaper applied the school’s overall free-or-reduced-price lunch percentage to each grade cluster.



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