Adopting A Poverty-Weighted Per-Student FormulaEducation Town Hall Report

Take The Burden of Poverty-Related Services Off the Schools Town Hall Counterpoint

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Take The Burden of Poverty-Related Services Off the Schools


Deborah Simmons, in-studio guest on March 14, argued that mental health and other important services helping student to be ready for learning must be removed from the schools’ responsibilities and from schools budgets.

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Check back for more on this topic from Simmons, an award-winning correspondent and frequent Town Hall guest.

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Adopting A Poverty-Weighted Per-Student Formula


There are many ways to slice a set of data, such as the results of a standardized test like the DC-CAS used in District of Columbia schools. This annual test is used to determine whether schools – or subgroups within schools – are “performing” or not. Data are reported at the school and the district level. For their annual progress reports, DC Public Schools generally focus on citywide scores. DCPS reported last year, for example, that 5% fewer students across the entire District scored below basic on the DC-CAS test in 2012, compared with 2007 scores. It’s good news to have fewer students below basic. But the statistic doesn’t tell us whether any individual student climbed up to basic or proficient. Nor does it say anything about school-level progress.

School-Level View Suggests Barriers to Goals

To get the school-level view, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute recently examined the same data differently. Soumya Bhat, Education Finance and Policy Analyst – who has been a guest on this show, and we hope will return – looked at individual charter and traditional public schools, comparing 2008 school proficiency rates with 2012 rates. Her report, released yesterday, includes policy recommendations based on the results.

Overall results were mixed, with the typical school’s math scores up slightly and reading scores down across the District. Charter school proficiency rose a few points since 2008, and DCPS scores dropped a few points.

The lowest performing schools in 2008 did make modest gains by 2012, with charter schools gaining at a slightly higher rate than DCPS schools. But DCPS’ declared goal of raising the bottom 40 schools by 40 percentage points in 5 years seems unlikely at the current rate of progress, according to the report.

“It would appear that DCPS needs to undertake substantial changes to the way it operates to make this goal a reality,” Bhat writes.

Using DC-CAS scores to rate a school or school district has limitations, and the report reviews several of these. Still, Bhat says in her introduction, “Test scores are the primary measure used by school leaders, policymakers, and the general public to assess whether schools are moving their students towards higher levels of academic achievement from year to year.”

This is the reason DCFPI chose to look at the school-level data over time: Is the median, the “typical,” school moving students ahead over time or not?

And from this analysis, a disturbing picture emerged….

Picture of a Divide

Examining aggregate data, it appears as though DC test scores are rising. Considered at the school-level, however, proficiency rates between 2008 and 2012 dropped at schools in four DC wards, while proficiency rates at schools in the remaining four wards rose.

I’m certain our in-studio guests – along with listeners familiar with the District – can guess which wards were which. For those outside the city, a few clues: annual median income, percentage of residents with high school and college degrees, and many other relevant demographic factors show a sharp divide in DC. 82% of Ward 3 residents have at least a bachelor’s degree, e.g., while 20% of Ward 8 residents do (source link coming). The median income for a family with children is $105,000 in Ward 2 and $25,000 in Ward 5. And yet the District no longer employs a per pupil funding formula which takes into account these differences. So schools where many factors contribute to children’s struggle in schools do not receive more per pupil funding than those in areas where far fewer families struggle with the basics.

To end the suspense: scores dropped in Ward 4, 5, 7, and 8 schools, while scores rose in Wards 1, 2, 3 and 6. Moreover, schools in Wards 7 and 8 began with the lowest scores in 2008, leaving many schools in the poorest neighborhoods further behind.

Based on this unsurprising data, the report recommends increasing non-instructional services for lower income students, including mental health services, out-of-school time programs, and parent engagement efforts in public schools. DCFPI also supports changes to the per student formula that could lead to additional resources for low-income students who are not performing at grade level.

Cathy Reilly of SHAPPE, the Senior High Alliance of Parents Principals and Educators, made a similar call this week. In testimony delivered at the Mayor’s budget hearing on March 12, SHAPPE called for a new formula giving additional weight to schools in which students face challenges including poverty and previous academic failure.

The Mayor and Deputy Mayor did not respond to SHAPPE’s testimony on this point, and it is not clear whether they will heed the call.

— Virginia Spatz
for The Education Town Hall
Thursdays at 11, on We Act Radio, 1480 AM in DC-area
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