Poverty and School Effectiveness

June 6, 2017

A University of Illinois at Chicago study released Tuesday analyzed 55 school districts throughout Illinois during the No Child Left Behind era and determined that Chicago’s achievement increased during this time, putting it on par with downstate districts.

The study, “Upstate/Downstate:  School Effectiveness in Illinois” also found that any early achievement gains made during the legislation’s enactment leveled off in the last half decade as “low-income” enrollment rose.

The study looked at the school districts, which belong to the Illinois Large Unit District Association, or LUDA, and analyzed district achievement, demographics and school effectiveness between 2001 and 2015.

Led by Paul Zavitkovsky, a leadership coach and assessment specialist at the Urban Education Leadership Program at UIC, and Steven Tozer, professor of education and director of the Center for Urban Education Leadership the study found that socio-economic issues played a large factor in student success.

“Achievement in Chicago is much higher than many people recognize and achievement downstate has been declining far more than most people are aware,” said Zavitkovsky. “Many predominantly white, downstate districts are now achieving at about the same level or in some cases lower than Chicago.”

The authors found that there were major regional differences in how school districts responded to persistent rises in low-income enrollment throughout Illinois.

On average, achievement in central and southern Illinois districts dropped as low-income enrollment rose. By contrast, increases in school effectiveness in northern Illinois including Chicago and most of its suburbs rose during this same time.

“This blunted the negative impact of rising low-income enrollment on district achievement,” said Zavitkovsky.

Among the findings:

-While the number of students in the Chicago Public School district classified as being low income stayed at 85 percent of the student population, composite reading and math achievement rose by 14 and 18 points.

-In suburban Chicago districts, enrollment of low-income students rose by 22 percent on average and achievement dropped between 1 to 3 points.

-In northern Illinois districts, low-income enrollment grew by 19 points on average. Aside from wealthier districts, which showed some gains in school effectiveness, overall districts showed achievement declines of 1 to 2 points.

-In central and southern Illinois, enrollment of low-income students rose by an average of 16 to 21 points. Achievement fell by 6 to 9 points in these districts.

The findings show that socio-economic issues play a major role in student success and that race is not a determining factor of student success.

The study concluded with several recommendations to improve student success including revamping testing to better represent what is being accessed, improving leadership preparation and support, and making funding more equitable throughout the state.

“Concentrated poverty is an equal opportunity disrupter that is now affecting predominantly white, downstate communities in exactly the same way it has affected low-income communities of color for decades,” said Zavitkovsky. “Evidence in Chicago and suburban Chicagoland shows that schools and districts can fight back by improving school effectiveness.”

Click to view the report online.