High-achieving students show nearly equivalent rates of academic growth toward college readiness, whether they go to a low- or high-poverty school, according to a new study released by the Kingsbury Center at Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA).
A Level Playing Field: How College Readiness Standards Change the Accountability Game found that average rates of academic growth by high achievers in high-income and low-income schools were nearly equivalent. Achievers in high-income schools showed slightly more significant math achievement growth than achievers in low-income schools, while those in low-income schools showed slightly larger growth rates in reading achievement.
The study also found that the vast majority of high achievers—95% of those in high-income schools and 85% of those in low-income schools—were on track to meet ACT college readiness benchmarks.
"As a nation, we have declared that every child should graduate college and career ready," said NWEA President and CEO Matt Chapman. "A Level Playing Field makes clear that our highest achievers, with respect to whether they go to school in a low- or high-income community, are on track. However, the study did show large differences among schools in the growth of their high achievers, which points to the need to analyze schools on the growth they produce along with proficiency based metrics."
The three-year study is a follow up to a 2011 study conducted by NWEA and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute that compared the growth of various groups of high achievers to their peers over multiple years. A Level Playing Field was released alongside a companion piece, For Whom the Pell Tolls: How Financial Aid Policies Widen the Opportunity Gap, which investigates the relationship between college access and school poverty for high-achieving students.
"A Level Playing Field demonstrates that our nation's low-income schools can serve the academic needs of our top-performing students," said Dr. John Cronin, director of NWEA's Kingsbury Center. "Yet while the top-performers at our low-income schools are making the gains we seek in the elementary and secondary grades, we cannot lose sight of the fact that existing achievement gaps mean many of these high performers are left out of the running from state-based merit scholarships, putting postsecondary education out of reach."
A Level Playing Field offers a several policy recommendations for addressing the college readiness gap between students in low-income and high-income schools, including:
* Holding schools responsible for both the achievement and the growth of all learners, with a particular on emphasis on high-achieving students who attend school in low-income settings. The needs of these students haven't been addressed by Federal legislation like NCLB and Race to the Top.
* Measure and promote successful programs that maintain and improve the growth of high achievers, recognizing that merely imposing sanctions and rewards on schools does not suffice.
"While we clearly support initiatives that promote college readiness for all students, it is important to recognize that high-poverty schools face additional challenges," the report concludes. "Perhaps more radically, if school administrators really want to narrow the educational gap between high- and low-poverty students (high achievers included), recent research suggests shifting more of the best teaching talent to high-poverty schools is crucial."
The sample population included 35,000 elementary and middle school students in nearly 1,000 schools and 31 states.