Education Trust Report — They Can and They Do: Low-Income Students and High Academic Achievement

Publication date: May 5, 1999

(Washington, D.C.) – Two documents released today by The Education Trust make it clear that the achievement gap that separates low-income students from other students can be closed if low-income students receive high level instruction.

  • The first document, a new analysis of 1998 student achievement data from Kentucky, demonstrates that low-income students can match the achievement of more affluent students, stride for stride. In fact, some high-poverty schools in Kentucky out-performed some of the state’s most affluent schools on the state’s KIRIS test  in 1998.
  • The second document reports the results of a national survey of high-poverty schools that are either high performing or have made significant academic gains. This Education Trust study, conducted in conjunction with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), highlights key instructional strategies and education policies that  work to help low-income students reach higher academic standards.

“The Kentucky data proves that low income kids can achieve at the highest levels. Our national survey points to how adults, policymakers and educators alike, can assure high achievement for these kids, and frankly, for all kids,” said Kati Haycock, Director of The Education Trust.

According to data compiled by the Kentucky Association of School Councils, some of the schools achieving the highest scores on the state’s KIRIS examination in 1998 were high-poverty schools (schools in which more than half of the students received free or reduced-price lunches.

  • 13 of the 20 elementary schools with the highest writing scores in the state were  high-poverty schools.
  • 6 of the 20 elementary schools with the highest mathematics scores in the state were high-poverty schools.
  • 5 of the 20 elementary schools with the highest reading scores in the state were high-poverty schools.

In all of these cases high poverty schools out-performed much more affluent schools in order to reach the top 20.

In commenting on this data Bob Sexton, Director of the Prichard Committee, an independent non-partisan citizen advocacy group that demands top quality schools for every Kentucky student said, “This data proves that there are ways to reach every child. It forces the question, why can’t every school do the same?”

The report, Dispelling the Myth: High Poverty Schools Exceeding Expectations, also released today by the Education Trust, finds that top performing high-poverty schools share six characteristics:

  • The state or district in which the schools operate has accountability systems with real consequences for adults in the school.
  • Parental involvement in efforts to get students to meet standards, and;
  • Comprehensive systems to monitor individual student performance and to provide help to struggling students before they fall behind,
  • Substantial investment in professional development for teachers focused on instructional practices to help students meet academic standards,
  • Increased instruction time for reading and mathematics,
  • Extensive use of state/local standards to design curriculum and instruction, assess  student work and evaluate teachers,

The report is based on survey data of 366 elementary and secondary schools in 21 states. The schools were identified by the relevant Chief State Schools Officer using state student assessment data. Because state tests differ so widely from each other, the data cannot be used to make state-to-state comparisons, only to show how schools in one state are doing compared to other schools in that same state.

“Not all the schools in this study have met all of their goals. Most recognize that they still have much to do,” said Haycock. “Nonetheless, these schools warrant attention  for two reasons. One, for posting significant academic gains at a time when too many adults hold little hopes for high-poverty schools and the students that attend them.  These schools – the students, teachers, and administrators (are all myth-busters. They show that it can be done. And two, they show how it can be done. These schools provide a road map to academic gains for educators and policy makers. What these schools are doing works. And it’s not magic, nor are the policies unique to any special teachers or principals. These are common sense (and replicable (policies and practices that work. Others interested in boosting student achievement should take notice.”

The report includes a directory-with contact information-for each of the schools participating in the survey.

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