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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Student Achievement: Risk factors, Protective factors and Non-factors

A while back, we mentioned the impressive research presentation by the 2011 Arkansas Teacher of the Year Kathy Powers to the Arkansas State Board of Education. The topic? School and community factors in Arkansas that could help or hurt student acheivement.

First Class Communication had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Kathy further about her research, which she performed with husband Ed, a sociology professor at the University of Central Arkansas.

We were even more impressed.

In looking at five years worth of county and school data for Arkansas and correlating that with Arkansas Benchmark literacy scores, here's what they found. Some of it confirms conventional wisdom and national research, some of it is more surprising. But it goes to show that the community-school link is tightly woven. Improving the community will improve the school, and vice versa.

  • The biggest county factors in Arkansas that are associated with lower test scores, what the Powers call risk factors, are:
    • The percent of female-headed households
    • A county's concentration of economically disadvantaged
    • Overall poverty of a county
    • Unemployment rate in a county
  • The biggest school risk factors are:
    •  Lack of student attendance (though she said the data on this seemed somewhat spotty; still attendance is sort of a no-brainer indicator for performance)
    • The percent of low-income students
    • If a school was more segregated than the community it was in
  • The biggest county factors in Arkansas that are associated with higher test scores, or what the Powers call protective factors, are:
    • Population growth in a county
    • Median income
    • The percent of residents with a high school diploma
    • The increase in Hispanics (this may be a by-product of the positive effect of the overall growth of a county
  • Protective school factors:
    • The more teachers with master's degrees, the better the students' Benchmark scores. This is surprising because it conflicts the findings of national research. Powers, however, says that it seems logical to her that teachers who are interested in learning are more likely to convey that appreciation for education to their students.
    • School size -- larger schools tended to produce higher test scores.
And as for non-factors, which were the most surprising:  whether the community was rural or urban, the percent with college degrees and the percent who didn't speak English in the home.
    Powers would love to see communities and schools work in closer partnership with each other to address the weaknesses that have such a significant impact on them both.

    We'll follow up with a later post on what some of her suggestions for doing so are, so stay tuned!

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