Districts’ ethnic and socioeconomic makeup can boost student achievement, study shows

Districts’ ethnic and socioeconomic makeup can boost student achievement, study shows

Districts’ ethnic and socioeconomic makeup can boost student achievement, study shows

Adopting a district policy of ethnic and socioeconomic diversity in grades K-3 can improve student achievement in math and reading, a new study by the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics shows.

The study compared achievement test scores for third-, fourth-, and eighth-graders in different districts that have “socially diverse” curriculum. “Socially diverse” means districts that serve at least 25 percent of their students from low-income households. “All four [states] were located in the upper Midwest, with a high concentration of Hispanics,” the study reports.

Findings: Those districts had the greatest effect on achievement. Third-graders in a “social diverse” district scored 50 to 70 points higher on the standardized math tests than those in similarly racially and economically diverse districts. Fourth-graders in socially diverse districts scored 65 to 90 points higher. And eighth-graders in socially diverse districts outscored their peers in similarly culturally diverse districts by 96 to 140 points.

Key findings about the ethnic and socioeconomic composition of a district:

• Rural districts have highest percentages of economically disadvantaged students

• Urban districts have highest percentage of Hispanic students

• Low-income students are least likely to live in districts that employ socioeconomic diversity

“While parental expectations are higher when students participate in socio-diverse organizations and schools,” the study notes, “the higher expectation level does not correlate with better outcomes.” There are, however, parents who know their children are likely to get a “good education” or even to move up the socioeconomic ladder in their own communities.

“Individuals themselves,” the study concludes, “often play a critical role in determining outcomes for all students.” To promote these findings, the study suggests that policymakers, educators, and business leaders should adopt policies that help low-income students access opportunities to overcome barriers and attend schools with the ability to help them rise academically.

Ann McGlone is an economist in the Education Department’s Institute for Educational Policy. Follow her on Twitter @AnnMcGlone

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