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Test Scores Tied To Parents’ Income, Education Analysis Finds Smaller Class Size Doesn’t Offset Family Factors

Tue., Feb. 14, 1995

It has nothing to do with genes, but your parents still will probably determine how good a student you are.

A computer analysis of Washington state education statistics indicates parents’ income and education levels are major factors in student performance.

Class size and a lower pupilteacher ratio apparently don’t offset other problems faced by poor performers.

A computer analysis by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer showed the highest test scores for students showed up where incomes were high and the poverty level was low. Better performances came from students whose parents had college degrees and hadn’t dropped out of school, been teenage parents, received welfare or rented homes.

In contrast, test scores were lowest where the opposite social conditions were in place. Also, students in districts with the poorest and least educated parents usually ranked below average on tests.

The study said the presence of only one parent also was a factor, but somewhat less than income and education level.

The study by the newspaper, outlined in Monday’s editions, looked at student test scores, social factors and school finance and staffing in the state’s 296 school districts.

Many of the lowest-achieving schools had large Hispanic and American Indian populations. But officials say it’s not race but social conditions that create performance gaps between ethnic minorities and other students - a pattern clear in the state school data.

The analysis also studied the teacher-student ratio in the schools, since the state had no statistics on class size. The data suggested that having fewer students per teacher usually was not enough to prevent low test scores.

In fact, most of the districts with the lowest scores were in the upper range of staffing levels, with as few as 19.12 students per teacher in all grades. Most of the districts with the highest scores had more students per teacher, up to 23.3.

School administrators said districts whose students performed best on tests received a greater share of their revenue from local taxes than most districts.

State statistics showed the majority of the worst-performing school districts had less local support. School administrators noted that in affluent communities, parents had more money to spend on school taxes. They also tended to live in higherpriced homes, which meant higher property-tax payments.

The worst-performing districts usually attracted the least experienced and least educated teachers, even if salaries were comparable. School administrators said it is simply harder to hire and keep experienced teachers where the students have more difficulties.

Mary Magill, an elementary teacher in the Edmonds School District’s Lynnwood area, said teachers prefer to go where they can focus on teaching instead of discipline and where parents support schools.

Granger school administrator Kay Higgins, who helps recruit teachers, said it is difficult to get people to a remote rural district with no housing and a troubled student population.

Nine of 10 Granger students are poor, a third are just learning English and nearly half the parents never made it through high school, state and federal data show.

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