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One More CAPT Post – Free/Reduced Lunch Eligibility and Hartford County Test Scores

Posted by whforums on July 25, 2008

Ok. So, in general, I’m a pretty open-minded person. And to be honest, I didn’t expect arguments of such conviction surrounding the last set of numbers I ran (where I argued that part of West Hartford’s struggle in its peer DRG group was rooted in a much higher Free/Reduced Lunch ratio). So it got me to thinking – what if I’m wrong? I’ve read several articles about the impact of poverty on school success, and I’ve talked to teachers who have told me about the impact of poverty on school success. But what did I have to go on besides those things – especially when it came to making claims about West Hartford and its DRG?

So, here’s what I did. I took all of the towns in Hartford county (minus Marlborough and Burlington, which share high schools with towns from other counties – and also minus Hartland, who I couldn’t find CAPT numbers for) and found their Free/Reduced Lunch eligibility rate for 06-07 (the most recent numbers available). I then found their 2008 CAPT average at “Goal” (the average percentage of students who met the high achievement rate of “Goal” across the four sections of the exam).

That allowed me to produce the chart below. I color coded it as a stoplight:

Red: More than 20% of students eligible for Free/Reduced.
Yellow: Between 10 and 20% of students eligible for Free/Reduced.
Green: Fewer than 10% of students eligible for Free/Reduced.

The Findings?

As far as the 2008 CAPT Exam in Hartford County goes, there is a definite correlation between percentage of students eligible for free/reduced lunch and percentage of students reaching “Goal” on CAPT.

Several things:

1. In this extremely limited sample, there is a correlation between poverty and test scores that at the very least implies that the consequences of poverty conspired to have a negative impact on standardized testing in Hartford County in 2008. This should not be misunderstood as the statement “the poor can’t learn.” It should be understood to imply the broader argument that, generally speaking, students in poverty face specific social and psychological consequences that may create an uneven educational terrain. Initiatives like Project Choice may temper some of the interpersonal consequences of poverty and may have a positive impact on test scores, but I have no data to defend or challenge that assertion, nor is an examination of that assertion the purpose of this post.

2. Not a single “red” district outperformed a “Green” district, though Bristol came close. (I know I write about Bristol a lot. I don’t know why).

3. West Hartford outperformed every other “Yellow” district and 3 “Green” districts. Also of note: West Hartford finished within 4 CAPT percentage points of Glastonbury, despite a 9% higher rate of Free/Reduced eligibility. If you go in the opposite direction, Enfield, which had a 9% higher rate of Free/Reduced eligibility than West Hartford, finished 26% lower on the CAPT.

4. I’m extremely interested in two pieces of data, if anyone has them:

a. How does poverty spread itself across West Hartford’s elementary schools, and how does it reflect itself in elementary CMT scores?

b. How do West Hartford students eligible for Free/Reduced lunch perform against students eligible for Free/Reduced lunch in other districts?

5. As I think should be obvious, taken as individuals, “rich kids” will door poorly and “poor kids” will do well – in school and on this exam. My argument is strictly about probability and how that probability plays out in the gross generality of a district’s test scores.

Please Understand That I’m Not Arguing That:

1. Free/Reduced lunch eligibility is anything more than one indicator of a district’s potential success.

2. I am not arguing that there is a direct relationship between Free/Reduced lunch eligibility and the overall quality of a district. To judge this one indicator, someone good at math would need to look at the rate of Free/Reduced lunch and compare it to the overall score. This might begin to separate over and underperforming districts. However, it seems self-evident to me from the color coding that, according to this one indicator, West Hartford is overperforming.

Admitted Limitations

1. I know very little about statistics. All I did was take the average of the 4 “Goal” scores on the 2008 CAPT to produce an average “Goal” score for each district. I welcome any revisions to these numbers from someone who knows more about what they’re doing than I do.

2. In some districts, students did very poorly on one section or very well on another section, and this skews numbers. For all I know, a whole district was coming down with the flu the morning of the math section.

3. I do know one thing about statistics – small sample sizes are bad. I openly grant this is a small sample size – but it’s the biggest sample size I have time to run numbers on. I might cobble together numbers over the previous 8 years, but that’s a project that would take at least a month (if not more) to complete. For this reason, I’ve tried to limit my claims to arguments about the 2008 CAPT results in Hartford County exclusively (while allowing for a few broader implications).

4. These numbers do not reflect “Proficiency” or passing rate – they only reflect the high achieving numbers at “Goal.” I have absolutely no idea if a “Proficiency” chart would look the same as the one above (though every instinct I have says it would look similar).

5. There’s no way (that I know of) to control for district size in these numbers. West Hartford is a large district – you would think it would be easier to identify struggling students in smaller districts (and you would think it would also be easier to get them the resources they need). I could be totally wrong about that, too.


Regardless, with the one indicator of Free/Reduced lunch eligibility in mind, I stand by my prior claim that to compare West Hartford’s test scores exclusively with more affluent districts is not a fair way to judge the success of our teachers, students, curricula or system.

Note: I’m providing these statistics to spark conversation, and because I think they’re interesting. There’s every chance I’ve messed something up, or done something remarkably “statistics stupid,” so please don’t treat them as fact or truth. I welcome ways to make these numbers work “better.”

5 Responses to “One More CAPT Post – Free/Reduced Lunch Eligibility and Hartford County Test Scores”

  1. sujal said

    As the first axiom of statistics goes, correlation does not imply causation.

    To do this properly, you would need to get more years of data for the same sample, but I’m not sure how to do that? Do the web sites have prior year data on them? How old is this test (I can’t remember which one is newer).

    Thanks for doing this. We need more numbers like this in our debate.

    Do you happen to have breakdowns for both numbers by individual school?


  2. whforums said

    I’ve pulled all my info from the State Department of Education site
    student assessment page:

    You can find the free/reduced lunch numbers on the first page of the “School Profiles” for each school. The CAPT and CMT numbers are available via the appropriate links. I think you can get breakdowns by school and by district, but I’m not entirely positive. The CAPT test is in its third generation. 1st gen testing doesn’t translate to second gen, but second gen supposedly translates to third gen. This was the first year for third generation — I’m not positive when second generation started.

    I guess one of the things that irks me is that the numbers just become soundbites, easy ways to celebrate or condemn. They demand to be read, and I’m just not sure I’m numbers literate enough to read them very well!

  3. Enjoying the dialog said

    Thanks for putting this information out on your site. I enjoy reading your postings since they are thoughtful and spark thoughful dialog and not just uninformed knee jerk angry dialog.

    I’m not an expert in education, but I have friends who are. One of them cowrote a compelling article to reform the funding of education in California to make it more equitable. The point of the article was to get more funding for schools with higher rates of poverty to help address the achievement gap they are seeing there. Yes, poor students can do well. However, they are more likely to not do well because of their home situation. And, even if they do have a supportive home life, being in a school with a higher level of poverty means their peers will impact their ability to get a good education.

    Another important consideration is the % of English Language Learners in a school. I’m not saying that English Language Learners can’t do well, but depending on how recently they began school in English, it will be much more difficult for them to score well on the CMT. West Hartford’s % of ELLs are higher than other districts in our DRG – West Hartford is at 17.6%, virtually all the other towns are under 9% with the exception of Greenwich which is at 17.2% but their free and reduced lunch is at 7.8% while West Hartford is at 14.3%. (See the Strategic School profiles)

    Specific quotes from the article:

    “The negative relationship between poverty and achievement is one of the most well-documented findings in educational research. In California,the highest API scores of high-poverty schools tend to be lower than the lowest API scores of low-poverty schools. In other words, there is virtually no overlap between the performance distributions of high versus low poverty schools.”

    “Importantly, students in high poverty schools face a double disadvantage arising not only from their own poverty but also from the poverty of their peers. Numerous studies of high- and low-poverty schools find that, in high-poverty schools, a student’s peers have had fewer opportunities to develop vocabulary and cultural capital, and tend to have lower aspirations, more negative attitudes toward achievement, and higher levels of disruption and mobility. In addition, parents are less likely to be involved in the school, to hold teachers accountable, and to be able to provide financial or other support. Thus poverty concentration is an important factor in allocating resources, as poor students in high poverty schools face greater educational challenges than poor students in low-poverty schools.”

    To read the full article:

  4. WH Alum said

    Pretty amazing data, WH Forums. Thanks for taking the time to pull this together. Though there are obviously many factors to consider regarding test scores, if we should even believe that test scores are a true measure of a school district’s success, drawing the correlation between kids at low income levels (free/reduced lunch program) and the test scores shows very strong parallels. I love the color coding! That’s a fabulous graphic representation.

    I had found a site that let you break scores down school by school at some point – I’ll look for it again later.

  5. jiimiona said

    +1. Who more? 🙂

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