By Regan Pecjak
Scholars at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education opened up a trove of data last Friday, making new information on educational equity available for researchers across the country to access.
The data covers the test scores of 3rd to 8th graders in every public school district in the United States from 2009-2013. Additionally, it contains supplementary information about the demographics of each district.
“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, professor of poverty and inequality in education, to The Stanford Report.
In addition to opening the data up for access, Reardon and his colleagues presented findings from their analysis of the data.
The researchers found that school districts at the high and low end of the socioeconomic spectrum have average performance levels more than four grade levels apart. They also discovered that the size of achievement gaps between rich and poor areas has little or no association with per capita student spending by the district, among other metrics.
The researchers emphasized that their findings from the data do not prove cause-and-effect, but instead allow researchers to determine valuable areas to study in the future.
Reardon’s team also used their dataset to examine racial gaps in academic achievement. They posted a paper online that analyzed 16 metrics of segregation to identify which elements of racial segregation have the greatest association with academic achievement.
The researchers suggest that racial segregation is intimately linked to the unequal distribution of resources among schools and call for policies that remedy racial equality to address this.
Reardon and his colleagues posted another paper focusing on the racial disparities of test achievement based on geography. They found that there were large achievement gaps between white and black students in major metropolitan school districts, including those of Atlanta, Georgia and Washington, D.C., as well as in smaller districts that are home to major universities including Berkeley, California and Charlottesville, Virginia.
“One very important takeaway is that there is not one single race/ethnic gap or income gap in the U.S., but rather that these gaps vary considerably by where one lives,” said Jane Waldfogel, a professor at Columbia University and an expert on early childhood and inequality, to The Stanford Report.
Waldfogel, who was not directly involved in the Stanford research, added that the results will drive researchers to figure out what makes the achievement gap smaller in some areas.
Reardon stressed that the measurements in the data should not be used to compare which school districts are the most effective, emphasizing the great variety of factors that influence test scores, such as after-school programs and family environments.