Math TCAP Performance Highly Correlated with % Free-Reduced Lunch

September 12, 2014 at 1:01 pm  •  Posted in Education, Pueblo by  •  8 Comments

In my initial post on the topic of TCAP scores I pointed out that Pueblo District 60 Schools (D60) have more students who qualify for Free Lunch than the total number of students in all of Pueblo County District 70 (D70). I also said D60 has a more difficult task not only due to the fact that they are a much larger school district overall but also because D60 students come from households with far lower incomes, on average.

Some readers may not be convinced that lower economic status translates into lower test scores. Let’s see if I can convince those folks that there is indeed a strong relationship between household income and academic performance.

Rather than focusing on Pueblo Schools I want to look at a bigger picture to better understand the relationship between test performance and economic status on a State-wide basis. So these data displayed in the charts below cover all over Colorado’s public schools. Many schools have too few test takers to be considered statistically significant so those small schools were eliminated from the data set. I also limited data selection to 3rd grade, 7th grade and 10th grade. These grade levels are the middle grade (or close to it) for typical elementary, middle and high schools, so I think it’s an appropriate subset to explore. If I look at every grade level I worry the quantity of data displayed starts to become too much to digest. In addition, I’m only looking at Math scores and, for now, omitting Reading and Writing scores for two reasons. First, again, it’s difficult to look at too much data all at once and might lead to confusion. Second, in my opinion, Math scores tend to minimize cultural bias and, as such, provide a more accurate reflection of actual academic capability.

On each of the charts below the horizontal (x) axis represents the percentage of students who qualify for Free or Reduced Lunch programs. The vertical (y) axis represents the Math TCAP test score results. Each point on the chart represents one school’s Math TCAP scores and their corresponding % of students who are eligible for Free or Reduced Lunch. I’ve also included a trend line with the associated regression equation and R-Squared value (included in the upper right corner of each chart). Don’t worry if the equations make you nervous – these details are only there for reference.




As the charts clearly illustrate, or at least they clearly illustrate this to me, there is a very strong relationship between economic status and TCAP Math performance. As % Free-Reduced Lunch goes up, school TCAP Math performance goes down. Given the strength and consistency of this relationship, School District evaluation efforts and media coverage of local school performance results should focus on school performance within this context.

Furthermore, instead of blaming public school systems for failing our children perhaps we should consider blaming socioeconomic policy for producing too many students who are too hungry to succeed in school.

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  4. Jeff / December 25, 2014 at 11:11 pm / Reply

    It’s not that they’re hungry or poor, but that their parents are not setting them up for success. I came from a dirt poor family, but excelled in school because my parents encouraged, tutored, and if necessary, disciplined me. Unfortunately, poor people tend not to do this as well. Swap the poor families with the rich families, neighborhoods, income, and all, and the previously rich children will still do well.

    • Justin / December 27, 2014 at 12:16 pm / Reply

      Jeff, it’s convenient to blame poor parenting because it frees society from the responsibility of providing a level playing field for children who, through no fault of their own, don’t have equal access to educational opportunity. Obviously, good parenting plays a huge role but our current system provides much better opportunity for children of lousy parents who happen to have money. You seem to have been taken in by the narrative that all people with money must have done something right to earn such privilege. Sorry, but it just ain’t true. Lots of shitty people stumble into money, just like lots of terrific people have no money. The burden of providing a level playing field remains. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Best, Justin

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