The dramatic impact of poverty on K-12 test scores

A few weeks ago, we looked at the performance of the Eastern Carver County School District on the MCA Math and Reading tests.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press did a follow-up on the test results, doing a statewide analysis of scores, looking at the type of district and whether the students were on free or reduced-price lunch programs.  The results are most interesting, as you can see from the graph below.

What the graph shows is that students of middle- and upper-class incomes perform similarly across all school districts.  Such students who attend Minneapolis and St. Paul schools perform within a point or two of their peers at suburban schools.

Students from poor backgrounds, however, fare significantly worse across the board.  In every type of district, there’s at least a 20% gap and as much as a 43% gap.  (Just on a raw statistical basis, these results explain much of the gap in performance in math scores between Chaska and Chanahassen High School, as Chaska has nearly 3x as many students as a percentage of enrollment on free or reduced-lunch programs.)

The sociological impacts of poverty on school performance are little different from Minneapolis to northern Minnesota.  Most experts note that the performance of poor students in the core cities tends to be worse because the level of poverty tends to be more extreme, and students in such situations in the core cities are more likely to be homeless or transitory.

What these numbers also show, though, is that districts all across the state should be able to share strategies and best practices for dealing with these problems.  And the solutions to these issues are larger than just redrawing boundary lines.  It requires imagination and engagement — not just with the students, but with their families to ensure that there is proper support at home.



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