Proof Points: Academic growth v. achievement

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By Jill Barshay

One of the most pernicious problems in America is how segregated our neighborhoods and schools are -- both by race and by income. A clever online experiment caught my attention because it suggested a small way to begin overcoming this divide.
 
In an online survey, 2,500 adults were asked to pretend they were parents and choose which school district to move to in five different metropolitan areas. Researchers randomly gave some of the respondents information about student achievement but others received information about how much students learned each year. People chose different school districts depending upon what information they were shown.
 
The study, “The Effects of Student Growth Data on School District Choice: Evidence from a Survey Experiment,” is slated to be published in the August 2021 Journal of American Education and was posted online in June 2021. 
Read the column
Key Findings 
  • Data on student achievement, such as average test scores, prompted a preference for school districts that are wealthier and more white.
  • Data about how much kids learn at school each year -- how fast test scores grow -- nudged survey respondents to prefer school districts that are poorer and less white.
  • When both student growth and achievement were displayed, they seemed to cancel each other out. Respondents picked the same district that they would have picked if they hadn’t had any academic information and all they knew was the racial composition of the students and family incomes.
Parent Takeaway 
  • Test scores are a better measure of how wealthy students are in a school than how much students learn each year. Students learn a lot at some low achieving schools.
  • Parents are better able to select effective schools when test score growth information is readily available.
  • Many high-achieving schools are also schools where students learn a lot. There is considerable overlap.
Lit Review 
  1. Abdulkadiroglu, Atila, Parag Pathak, Jonathan Schellenberg, and Christopher Walters. 2020. “Do Parents Value School Effectiveness?” American Economic Review 10 (5): 1502–39. (My report on this study.)
  2. Houston, David M., Henig, Jeffrey R. 2021. “The Effects of Student Growth Data on School District Choice: Evidence from a Survey Experiment” American Journal of Education.
  3. Reardon, Sean F. and Hinze-Pifer, Rebecca. 2017. “Test Score Growth Among Chicago Public School Students, 2009-2014” Center for Education Policy Analysis, Stanford University
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