REL 2004 Policy Forum
Achievement Gaps in the SEDL Region: What Data Tell Us

Ms. Diane Pan, Dr. Debra Hughes Jones, and Ms. Lotte Smith-Hansen
SEDL Policy Research

Pan gave a brief overview of SEDL’s three policy research studies on education resources and student achievement. She discussed several lessons learned from this research:

  • Socioeconomic differences must be examined to address the achievement gap. Significant findings regarding instructional spending and student performance changed or disappeared when controlling for student socioeconomic measures.
  • Existing data to accurately measure a child’s well-being, socioeconomics demographics, and school readiness may not be current, available, or disaggregated to an individual level. State education agencies collect data on students, but these data contain a limited range of measures that tell only a small part of the story.
  • Data systems are improving. States are motivated by NCLB to track achievement by subgroups and better measure teacher quality. Census data are now available at the school district level. In SEDL’s region, states are making progress toward upgrading data systems.

Jones discussed data on student poverty, health insurance, enrollment by race, and graduation in SEDL’s region (AR, LA, NM, OK, and TX). She pointed out differences among racial subgroups, across the five states, and between the states and the nation, revealing regional variations that might impact achievement. Some subgroups, i.e., American Indian and Asian, were included in only some data displays because of the small size of their population. However, across the region, American Indian students graduate at similar rates to other Non-White students. Jones described the three most recent years (1998, 2002, and 2003) of collected and reported National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading achievement data for 4th grade subgroups in the five states and made comparisons to the percent of students on free and reduced price lunch (FRPL). Regarding NAEP reading in all five states:

  • students on FRPL generally track the pattern of NAEP results for Hispanic students
  • the White and Black gap was greater than between White and any other Non-White group, except in New Mexico where the Native American and White gap was greater
  • the gap between White and Non-White students narrowed over time

Jones also discussed the most recent year of publicly available state achievement test results for White and Non-White groups in reading or literacy for 4th or 5th graders (varied by state). She noted similar findings to the NAEP reading results regarding the extent of the gap between subgroups and the trend in the FRPL pattern. Although there is some evidence of a narrowing of the gap, Jones recommended we consider the data, recognizing that while standardized tests give an indication of mastery of basic proficiency, they may not capture other important success factors such as creativity, resourcefulness with problem-solving, and other unmeasured skills.

Smith-Hansen presented maps of the states showing socio-economic factors (student poverty-FRPL, minority enrollment, parent education, and public assistance), per-pupil expenditures, student achievement, and teacher quality (education, certification, and salary). Based on significant correlations in SEDL’s region, she showed strong relationships between:

  • student minority and other socio-economic factors
  • student minority, student poverty, and poor achievement
  • student poverty and lower teacher quality
  • student poverty and higher per-pupil expenditures and lower teacher salary
  • poor achievement and lower teacher quality.

She again raised the issue of what resources are needed to make students successful if clearly socio-economic factors play an important role. Participants raised additional questions and a discussion ensued about state demographic patterns, achievement issues, and broadening perspectives on the resources beyond education that are needed to narrow the gap.

View SEDL's Policy Forum Powerpoint Presentation