San Francisco, California—August 5, 2014—WestEd has recently released the 2013 list of California schools that beat the odds by performing better academically than would have been predicted based on their student demographics and by doing so for at least four consecutive years.
Overall, 192, or 2.9 percent, of California public schools were identified as beating the odds based on their scores on the state’s Academic Performance Index, including 122 elementary schools, 37 middle schools, and 33 high schools.
This list was compiled in response to interest generated by a WestEd study published last year entitled A Climate for Academic Success, that identified 40 California public middle and high schools that beat the academic achievement odds on the state’s standardized academic tests every year from 2007/08 through 2010/11. The 2013 list, which also includes elementary schools, uses data from 2009/10 through 2012/13.
Educators are often looking for exemplars of success that might offer some guidance for their own school’s improvement efforts. Yet, too often, school success is defined by students’ absolute test scores, which are highly related to the demographics of the students served. Because of this association between student demographics and school performance, the fact that schools with largely affluent student populations are often successful offers little useful direction for struggling schools with students from low-socioeconomic (low-SES) backgrounds.
Thus, in defining success for this beating-the-odds list, WestEd sought to identify schools that consistently performed better than would be predicted for schools with their particular demographic characteristics. The list includes schools with a variety of demographic compositions. For example, some beating-the-odds schools serve all low-income students and some serve none.
“Whatever their student characteristics, these schools have demonstrated higher levels of academic performance than would be expected based on their student populations,” says Greg Austin, director of the Health and Human Development Program at WestEd, which developed the list. “The natural next step for education researchers and policymakers is to learn what it is about these schools that led to their success—especially what allowed those serving low-SES populations to break the well established connection between demographics and achievement. The answers to this question can provide useful guidance for school improvement.”
One answer may be that these schools had more positive school climates compared to their peer schools. The 2013 WestEd study A Climate for Academic Success documented school climate as a factor strongly associated with beating the academic achievement odds among middle and high schools. For this year’s list, school climate still appears to differentiate schools that beat the academic odds.
In the subsample of middle and high schools for which School Climate Index (SCI) scores, based on California Healthy Kids Survey data, were available, the average SCI percentile among the 2013 beating-the-odds schools was 70, compared to 51 for all other middle and high schools. This underscores the importance of districts making school climate a priority in their Local Control and Accountability Plans.
Funding for this analysis was provided by The California Endowment, a private statewide health foundation whose mission includes promoting fundamental improvements in the health status of all Californians.
About WestEd WestEd, a national nonpartisan, nonprofit research, development, and service agency, works with education and other communities to promote excellence, achieve equity, and improve learning for children, youth, and adults. WestEd has 15 offices nationwide, from Washington and Boston to Arizona and California. Its corporate headquarters are in San Francisco. More information about WestEd is available at WestEd.org.