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College Park, MD—A new report by the Maryland Equity Project at the University of Maryland College of Education examined the relationship between the racial/ethnic and socioeconomic demographics in Maryland public schools and school achievement. On both the state and school district level, the research team found a significant relationship between school composition—as measured by low-income, black, and white student enrollment—and performance.
The research team determined a school’s proficiency rate, or performance, based on the percentage of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessments on which students scored at or above proficient in 2015-16.
“This research shows a relationship between the demographic composition of a school and performance on the PARCC in Maryland,” said Gail Sunderman, co-author of the report and director of the College’s Maryland Equity Project. “It is important for policymakers to recognize this relationship, because as the state’s student population has become more diverse over the last 25 years, Maryland schools have also become more segregated by race and income. Our research is consistent with previous research that shows that the demographic composition of a school matters.”
Dr. Sunderman also noted that the relationship between school level poverty and achievement was particularly strong.
“What we are seeing is an increase in income-related achievement gaps,” she said.
Key findings from the report:
- An increase in the percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced price meals (FARM) is strongly correlated with a decrease in school performance, particularly at the state level. Across the state, for every 10 percentage point increase in enrollment of low-income students in a school, there is about a 5.2 percentage point decrease in school proficiency rate, i.e. proficient PARCC scores fall from 30 percent to less than 25 percent in a school.
- At the state level, racial composition of a school was also linked to school proficiency rate, although not as strongly as low-income enrollment. Black student enrollment in a school was associated with a decrease in school proficiency rates; a 10 percentage point increase in black student enrollment in a school was associated with a 3.8 percentage point decrease in a school’s proficiency rate. Conversely, white student enrollment was a predictor of an increase in PARCC performance, with a 10 percentage point increase in white student enrollment corresponding to a 3.4 percentage point increase in a school’s proficiency rate.
- There was considerable variation across the school districts in how well FARM-eligible student enrollment and racial/ethnic demographics predicted school achievement.
Nonetheless, across school districts, the relationships between school demographics and achievement were similar to that of the state, although some districts were omitted from the analysis due to small size or lack of racial or economic diversity.
“Our analysis did not look at what may cause the relationship between school composition and achievement,” Dr. Sunderman said. “Many factors associated with race and poverty, from institutional support for education to neighborhood environment, may contribute to these disparities. But what this analysis does tell us is that policymakers need to consider not only education-related policies but also broader, social, economic, and housing policies to address these achievement differences.”
The researchers recommended adopting research-based policies that mitigate the effects of poverty on student outcomes and address achievement gaps, which may include expanding access to prekindergarten and afterschool programs, zoning-related policies, and interventions that address social skills, which are also important in life outcomes.
The Maryland Equity Project is a research center in the Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership at the University of Maryland College of Education. It conducts, synthesizes, and distributes research on key educational issues in Maryland, facilitates collaboration between researchers and policymakers, and seeks to improve education through research that supports an informed public policy debate on the quality and distribution of educational opportunities.