Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Education Outcomes of Students in Foster Care
A new analysis of students in foster care who attend California public schools reveals a previously invisible achievement gap between students in foster care and other students, including those from low-income and other at-risk backgrounds. The research also makes clear that students in foster care in California comprise a distinct educationally at-risk sub group.
The Invisible Achievement Gap, Part 1 – Education Outcomes of Students in Foster Care in California's Public Schools is a first-of-its-kind analysis that links data from California’s education and child welfare systems for the 2009-10 academic year to create an education snapshot of K-12 students in foster care in California. The report reveals a previously invisible achievement gap between children in foster care and other students, including other at-risk subgroups such as low-Socio-Economic Status (SES), English learners, and students with disabilities. The research shows that students in foster care:
• constituted an at-risk subgroup that was distinct from low-SES students.
• were more likely than other students to change schools during the school year.
• were more likely than the general population of students to be enrolled in the lowest-performing schools.
• had the lowest participation rate in California’s statewide testing program.
• showed an achievement gap in statewide tests when compared to other at-risk students.
had the highest dropout rate and lowest graduation rate.
These findings and others are documented in The Invisible Achievement Gap, Part 1, a new research report published by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd with support from the Stuart Foundation. The report links and analyzes individual student education and child welfare data to create a first-of-its-kind education snapshot of K–12 students in foster care in California.
The analysis of data from school year 2009/10 reveals that just 29 percent of students in foster care achieved at proficient or above levels on the California Standards Test in English. By comparison, 40 percent of students designated as low socioeconomic status (low SES) tested at proficient levels or above, as did more than half (53%) of all students statewide. Similar gaps in achievement are evident in the analysis of the state standards test in mathematics for grades 2-7. In high school, between 12 and 13 percent of youth in foster care tested at proficient or above on the state standards tests for Algebra I and II. By comparison, 23 percent of student from low SES backgrounds and 32 percent of all students tested at proficient levels or above. Students in foster care also have the lowest rates of participation in California’s statewide testing program.
The analysis also shows that students in foster care have the highest yearly drop out rates and are more than twice as likely to drop out in comparison to other students. The drop out rate for students in foster care in 2009-10 was 8 percent, almost three times higher than the statewide dropout rate of 3 percent. Students in foster care are also less likely to graduate from high school. In 2009/10, 58 percent of students in foster care graduated from grade 12. By comparison, 79 percent of low SES and 84 percent of all students earned a high school diploma.
The research also shows that the more than 43,000 students in foster care constitute a distinct demographic profile – different from their classmates statewide and also different from other students designated as low SES. Students in foster care were twice as likely to be designated with a disability, and within that group, five times more likely than others to be classified with an emotional disturbance.
Students in foster care are also more likely to change schools than students in the comparison groups. Only about two thirds (68 percent) of students in foster care attended the same school for the full school year, contrasting with over 90 percent of the low-SES and the statewide student populations. Just under 10 percent of students in foster care attended three or more schools during the same school year, a level of school mobility experienced by only about 1 percent of the comparison groups.
Youth in foster care are also more likely to attend the state’s lowest performing schools. About 15 percent of youth in foster care attend schools ranked in the bottom 10 percent of schools on the state’s Academic Performance Index.
The Invisible Achievement Gap is the result of a unique collaboration between the California Department of Education and the California Department of Social Services, the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd, and other agencies. The Stuart Foundation provided funding for the project. The findings are based on a first-of-its-kind study that matched data from California’s education and child welfare systems for the 2009/10 academic year in order to identify public school students who were in foster care. The research provides detailed information on the number of students in foster care during that school year, their demographic background, the school districts in which they were enrolled, and their educational outcomes. The findings are particularly timely as California becomes the first state in the nation to attempt to track the academic progress of students in foster care as part of its new school finance reform plan.