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Report Card: States Fail High-Achieving Low-Income Students

States have made little progress in supporting high-achieving, low-income students, according to a new report by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. 

Released this week, the second edition of the report “Equal Talents, Unequal Opportunities” issued several recommendations for states to promote educational excellence and close income-based “excellence gaps.” 

Dr. Jennifer GlynnDr. Jennifer Glynn

The report mirrors the authors’ belief that America has the potential to “cultivate the talent of the next generation” by opening advanced educational opportunities to all students, including low-income students with high ability and potential. 

“Low-income students, who now make up over half of our public school population, are much less likely to achieve academic excellence even when demonstrating the potential to do so,” the foundation said. 

Dr. Jennifer Glynn, co-author of the report and the foundation’s director of research, said the report examines three broad topics: policies that states have in place, participation rates of students in advanced learning opportunities and student performance outcomes measured using AP scores and test-taking. 

Among the report’s findings are that only 14 states received a “B” grade or better for work supporting excellence. No states received a “B” or better for closing excellence gaps. 

Additional findings showed that 31 states have policies to provide funding for students to take the SAT, ACT or AP tests, which can be a barrier to college for low-income students, Glynn said. 

“We know that not all high-achieving students from lower-income backgrounds make it to college, and the SAT is a barrier for that,” she said. “About 23 percent of students who are in the top academic quartile nationwide, but [in the] bottom socioeconomic quartile, do not take the SAT or ACT.” 

She recommended that states mandate and implement policies that provide economic support to cover the costs of tests for students so that the financial burden does not keep them from applying to college. Further, encouraging schools to allow dual-enrollment could lead to reduced financial hardship if a student is able to take advanced college courses while in high school and transfer those credits to college, lowering tuition costs, Glynn said. 

Participation rates of low-income students in AP or advanced-level courses also factored into state report card grades on efforts to promote excellence and close excellence gaps. A lack of access to or participation in such courses by high-achieving, low-income students can “make them look differently on their college application,” Glynn said. 

Two of the report’s recommendations — maximizing identification of students who receive advanced learning opportunities and ensuring that all high-ability students have access to advanced educational services — address what researchers found throughout several states: that lower-income students are “dramatically underrepresented” among AP test-takers, said Glynn. 

The report’s co-authors offered further recommendations promoting the creation of a comprehensive talent-development plan, the removal of barriers that prevent high-ability students from accelerating through the K-12 system at their achievement level and a push for more accountability from schools for the outcomes and performance of high-ability students from all economic backgrounds. 

One of the key recommendations Glynn said she would like to see emphasized is states focusing solely on income differences to find solutions that promote excellence and close excellence gaps. She said researchers have been good about analyzing data by other subgroups, such as race and gender, but many states do not systematically collect data on differences in access, participation and performance based on socioeconomic background. 

Building that information into their data analytics systems, analyzing performance out by income and “including measures in their accountability system that rewards schools who have smaller excellence gaps would be a tremendous step,” Glynn said. 

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.

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