A few days ago I posted data showing that K-12 spending in Virginia was 10.2% lower in 2014 than it was in 2008, yet National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores for Virginia students had climbed over the same period. Given the evidence that Virginia schools showed they could do more with less, I asked, is it possible that money is not the main constraint holding back educational achievement?
In a blog post yesterday, the Commonwealth Institute argues that the cuts have hurt academic performance, particularly in poor school districts where budget cuts have hit the hardest. While overall performance has improved since the recession, it has suffered for low-income students, black students and English-as-a-second-language students.
For example, since 2007, 4th grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have gone up for all Virginians on average by 2 points, increasing 4 points for White students and 9 points for students that do not qualify for free or reduced lunch. Yet, they have fallen by 5 points for Black students, 2 points for students that receive free or reduced lunch, and an astounding 21 points for English language learners. Average eighth grade math scores show a similar divergence.
That’s a fair point worth closer examination. I’d like to dig deeper — are there other variables that could explain the divergent performance between racial/ethnic groups? The Commonwealth Institute divides the school districts into quintiles ranked by the size of the state budget cuts. How directly do those budget cuts correlate with declining test scores for poor, black and ESL students? We can’t conduct that kind of analysis with NAEP scores, but we can with SOL scores. I’d love to see that analysis.