Unprecedented analysis of low-income student achievement in large U.S. cities gives reason for both optimism and concern; highlights limitations and potential of state and local data
OAKLAND, Calif., June 20, 2017 – The performance of students from low-income families matches or exceeds that of their more advantaged peers in reading and math at 500 schools identified using the Education Equality Index (EEI), released today. The Index, which aims to create a nationally comparative measure of low-income student achievement, analyzed data for over 55,000 schools nationwide. The public website features the academic performance of students from low-income families in 213 of the 300 largest cities in America, according to school-age population, and which had available data.
Designed through a unique partnership between national nonprofits Education Cities and GreatSchools, whose popular website is used by millions of parents to evaluate schools, the Index identifies schools and cities where students from low-income families are achieving at or above the level of their more advantaged peers.
“The 2017 Education Equality Index helps identify where students from low-income families are on track to succeed, and provides good reason for both optimism and concern,” notes Carrie McPherson Douglass, Managing Partner at Education Cities. “Our goal is to provide researchers, advocates, and policymakers tools to draw national comparisons – and shine a spotlight on schools worthy of additional study.”
The EEI draws upon an unprecedented integration of data from state proficiency assessments, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and the Free or Reduced Price Lunch program to enable policymakers and researchers to explore school and city-level achievement data. Although students from low income families performed below the national average at 83% of schools included in the Index, it also shines a light on the small but inspirational 4% of schools where students from low income families, on average, not only surpassed the national average for all students, but also performed better than the average for their more affluent peers.
Limitations in established data sets, including availability of disaggregated data for state assessments and inconsistency in documentation of free and reduced lunch participation, means that adequate data was not available to include all U.S. schools or cities in the Index. Cities where fewer than 75% of schools met the criteria did not receive a score on the Index. Assessment data was not available for five states, which were also excluded.
“Never before have we been able to examine such comprehensive data to compare schools and cities across the country with a focus on the academic performance of students from low-income backgrounds,” said Samantha Brown Olivieri, Vice President of GreatSchools and author of the EEI report. “And while the data is robust, there is room for improvement. States need to commit to improved transparency to ensure the public has access to a clear view of student performance for all students.”
Based on the Index, each school and city receives a score ranging from 0 to 100 based on the performance of their students from low-income families on state standardized tests. The EEI score also adjusts for differences in state standards and assessments and concentration of poverty. The score reflects how well students from low-income families are performing in a specific school or in a specific city compared to how students from low-income families and all students are performing nationally. Schools where students are performing well above average on the EEI may provide insights to help close longstanding achievement gaps for students from underserved communities.
Unsurprisingly, some of the largest cities also have large numbers of schools with low-income students who are performing at high levels. However, some smaller cities, like Brownsville, Texas, also make the list of cities with a high number of schools rated “far above average” based on their EEI score – 85% of schools in Brownsville, Texas have an above-average EEI score of 70 points or more.
*Source: 2015 School-aged population estimate, U.S. Census
Texas cities seem disproportionately represented within the 213 cities included in the Index where students from low-income families are achieving at high levels. Math scores in particular are driving these strong results. This includes several medium-sized cities in the Rio Grande Valley, as well as the large city of El Paso on the West Texas/Mexico border. The majority of these cities serve a large number of students from low-income families and a student population that is almost entirely Latino.
Based on a cumulative average year-over-year percentage change in EEI score between 2011 and 2015, six of the top ten most improved cities included in the Index were in California. While students from low-income families in most of these cities were performing close to the national average in 2015, they had been performing closer to the “Below Average” range in 2011.
While there are many bright spots of both cities and schools where students from low-income families are performing highly, analysis reveals that, overall, the performance of students from low-income families at most schools still lags far behind their advantaged peers.
To read the full report from the Education Equality Index and use the interactive online tool, visit www.educationequalityindex.org. Researchers interested in accessing the results for the full list of 55,000 schools can visit the EEI website to contact GreatSchools.
About Education Cities
Education Cities is a non-profit organization that convenes, advises, and supports a network of cities in their efforts to increase the number of great public schools. Learn more at www.educationcities.org.
GreatSchools is the leading national nonprofit empowering parents with essential information to improve educational opportunities for their child. GreatSchools’ trusted ratings, school quality information, and parenting guidance help parents find the right school for their family, take action to improve schools in their communities, and support their child’s learning. Learn more at www.greatschools.org.
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