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District Report Cards: Poverty Still Matters

December 7, 2012

Yesterday, with little fanfare, the Oklahoma State Department of Education released district A-F Report Cards. Predictably, most districts fell into the B and C range. You can view district (and school) grades here.

A

23

B

215

C

242

D

41

F

2

The same criteria were used for districts as for the school report cards. Accordingly, the distribution of grades was similar. For the most part, districts with high poverty did worse than districts with low poverty. For the sake of being thorough, though, I spent a few minutes matching the districts to their free and reduced lunch participation rates. Running a simple Pearson regression test, I found that there to be a moderate, negative correlation (-0.44).

What this means is that districts with higher percentages of poverty tended to have lower report card GPAs. The tendency is not an absolute, but it shows the extent to which poverty predicts student performance. For further illustration, I have plotted school performance below, and included a line of best fit.

statterplot

The distance from the trend line shows you how much a district over-performed or under-performed based upon statistical expectations. The dots to the far right represent the 13 school districts earning a 4.0 GPA (one of which got a B – yes there are penalties assessed for things like not testing enough students, leaving your name off your paper, or forgetting to write in cursive). Those districts range in free and reduced lunch participation from 36 to 87 percent. Yes, it is possible to have high achievement with high poverty. However, the schools and districts achieving this are outliers.

And yes, having outliers is a good thing. Maybe we can learn from the districts with high poverty and high achievement what the secret is to defying the sociological tendencies we all know to be true in education. Maybe poverty is but one variable explaining some of the variance in school scores. Maybe unemployment, mobility, parent education level, and family structure explain some of this as well.

I can accept any of that. What I can’t accept is the premise that these letter grades tell you how qualified or how effective the teachers in any of these districts are. Poverty explains a lot – maybe not everything, but enough that our leaders should be paying more attention to it.

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  1. Joe Love
    December 7, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    You know what they say about correlation and causation. Is this report card supposed to measure how qualified teachers are, or is it supposed to be judging the districts as a whole. Bad practices and poor management of resources can cause just as many problems as bad teachers– probably more.

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  2. Kathy
    December 7, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    So, what happens when you control for district size? Size has a lot to do with the quirkiness of the SDE grading scale…especially if you are using “GPA.” Also, the fact that their GPA scale is not really a continuous scale limited your correlation…it’s also why those dots line up in neat little rows….because the whole scale is not truly available.

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  3. December 9, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Kathy and Joe,

    I’m working on a post that will respond to both of you, as well as articles from the Tulsa World and Oklahoman from today. Should be up around five.

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  1. December 9, 2012 at 4:00 pm
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