New Stanford Study of Academic Gains in School Districts

December 6, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Fascinating new study from Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis using standardized test scores from 45 million students to track academic growth in over 11,000 school districts. The study tracks progress from grades 3 through 8. The money graph comes on page 33 and is included above. Just to save your eyes from squinting, let me provide a play by play: the top map shows average 3rd grade scores by district. Purple is low, green is high.

The second map shows academic progress over time between grades 3 and 8 between 2009 and 2015. Again purple is low, green is high.

Ok so just to (once again) brag on the Cactus Patch, you’ll notice that everything and anything on the top map bordering Canada looks green, anything and everything bordering Mexico from the Rio Grande Valley to So-Cal looks purple on the top map. Many decades after Senator Moynihan noted that the average performance on state tests is highly correlated with proximity to Canada, it remains the case today.

Cast your gaze down to the second map and you’ll see some signs for hope-most prominently in my book Arizona flipping from almost entirely purple to mostly green in growth. BOOOM!

Now before I get comment section bricks thrown my way from the Dr. Eponymous, let me hasten to add that these results while relying upon state test scores, are entirely consistent with Arizona’s NAEP results in Arizona’s case. Given that there is no ability or incentive to teach to the NAEP, I feel reasonably confident that either the academic knowledge or the testing “give a darn” of Arizona students (or some combination thereof) is on the rise. I interpret either of these things as very welcome developments and I’m not overly concerned about the mixture.

It is also worth noting that since these results focus only on school districts with the highest statewide percentage of Arizona students attending charter schools, and Arizona charter schools exceeding districts in academic growth on NAEP (see below), that the above charts underestimate Arizona’s total progress between 2009 and 2015. Arizona is does the purple to green flip with only the yellow columns in the below NAEP graph (same period as the Sanford study): * see correction below

Tennessee also does the purple to green flip so bully for them. Notice that most of the Northeast starts out very green and ends pretty purple, but er, they aren’t alone in this. Cool graphic features in this NYT write up where you can plug in a school district and watch it move between 3rd and 8th grade here.

It’s too much…it’s too much winning! No Arizona we’ve got to win MOARRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!


CORRECTION : The author included charter school scores in the districts in which they operate.