A Synthesis of Validated Research on High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools
Children who live in poverty often attend the lowest performing schools. State and national assessments consistently show poor children lagging behind in performance.1 Very poor communities face many hardships, where children, families, and the schools that serve them confront a host of challenges. For schools, these challenges include children who start school without early literacy skills, high rates of absenteeism and transience, difficulty attracting experienced teachers, and much more (Stiefel et al. 2000).
It is challenging work to turn around a low performing school in an impoverished community, but there is promising research to support the notion that it can be done. What common qualities, attributes, and conditions characterize high-performing, high-poverty schools?
There are public schools in poor communities that are making substantial progress, or have excelled, in their mission of teaching children to read, do mathematics, and develop higher-order thinking skills. Researchers have looked at such schools to determine what characteristics they share. Lessons learned from high-performing, high-poverty schools could bolster efforts by school leaders and educators strengthen low-performing schools (Carter 2000). The best available research indicates that positive change and success can occur even under the most challenging conditions.
Defining high-performing schools
Definitions and standards for high-performing schools varied across and within these studies. Nonetheless, each of the schools examined showed positive growth and progress. All of the studies used standardized test results, primarily in mathematics and reading, to identify high-performing schools. For instance, a school might have been identified as high-performing if it showed improved test scores across all grades or across all subjects. A school also might have been identified as high-performing if it showed improved test scores on one subject within one or two grades.
Most of the studies reviewed here focused on results of state-mandated tests. These tests offer researchers validated instruments and the potential for comparisons across schools, although not across states. Each state bases its tests on its own academic standards, which differ in content and rigor. Despite the variations in definitions and standards for high performance in schools across and within these studies, each of the schools examined showed positive growth and progress.
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. © 2007, Center for Parent/Youth Understanding
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