Local education inequities across U.S. revealed in new Stanford data set

April 29, 2016

By Jonathan Rabinovitz

Sean Reardon and colleagues review more than 200 million test scores to spotlight communities with the nation’s worst achievement gaps.

Almost every school district enrolling large numbers of low-income students has an average academic performance significantly below the national grade-level average, according to Stanford Graduate School of Education research based on a massive new data set recently created from more than 200 million test scores.

The research also revealed that nearly all U.S. school districts with substantial minority populations have large achievement gaps between their white and black and white and Hispanic students.

The data, which were made available online April 29, provide the most detailed account yet of academic disparities nationwide. They comprise reading and math test results of some 40 million 3rd to 8th grade students during 2009-13 in every public school district in the country, along with information about socioeconomic status, school district characteristics, and racial and economic segregation.

“We don’t administer a single standardized exam to all U.S. students, so a clear picture of the differences in academic performance across schools and districts has been elusive up until now,” said Sean Reardon, the Stanford education professor who devised the statistical methods that make it possible to compare the mandatory tests administered in different states. “It’s now much easier to identify school districts and communities where performance is high, compare them with demographically similar ones that do less well and try to determine what’s behind the differences.”

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