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Study: Socioeconomic status correlates with higher test performance in Alabama

Evan Mealins

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Results from Alabama’s 2018 standardized grade level tests have been released.

Across the board, Alabama students in grades 3-8 scored 47.5 percent proficient in math and 46.3 percent proficient in reading. The proficiency rate for science is tested in the fifth and seventh grades and Alabama students scored 38.0 percent proficient in science.

2018 was an important year for standardized testing as Alabama transitioned away from the ACT Aspire and to the new Scantron test. The Aspire, while applauded for being more “honest” than the now defunct ARMT, was criticized for technical difficulties with administration and tardy delivery of test results.

One striking disparity in test results is between students who live above and below the poverty line. Economically disadvantaged students scored proficient in reading 29.6 percent less often than their non disadvantaged peers, math 29.2 percent less and science 28.1 percent less.

“Students growing up economically disadvantaged are less likely to be read to in the early years, are exposed to fewer words, and are more likely to be exposed to health problems that can affect their capacity to learn in school and perform on tests,” said Don Dailey, in the score release from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama.

There is an inverse trend shown between the percentage of students in a school system that receive free lunch and the percentage of students who tested proficient in math. The more students in a school system that receive free lunch, which is used as a marker of economic disadvantage, the fewer students that are likely to test as proficient.

However, some school systems exceed expectations. For example, 49.3 percent of Pike County Schools students scored proficient in math, 20 percentage points more than the average system where 73 percent of students receive free lunch. How do Pike County and other school systems like it perform so well when many of their students are not statistically likely to succeed? Dailey said school systems do this through “effective teaching, student support, and school organization and culture.”

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Next year, a new set of tests that the state is currently developing will be rolled out and the Scantron’s short run in the Yellowhammer State will be over.

 

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