Key Coverage

Poverty’s Enduring Hold On School Success

A new analysis of a decade of state test score data by WBEZ and the Daily Herald underlines the immense role poverty plays in how well a school performs.

Our analysis shows a vast expansion of poverty—2,244 schools have seen their proportion of low-income students increase by at least 10 percentage points over the last decade. And the number of schools struggling with concentrated poverty— where nearly every child in the school is low-income — has ballooned.

But perhaps most troubling, WBEZ and the Daily Herald find that poverty remains a frustratingly accurate predictor of how well schools will perform. Schools full of middle-class kids rarely perform below average on state tests; schools made up of low-income kids rarely score above.

In fact, test score data in Illinois indicate that the degree to which poverty is tied to school performance is slightly stronger than it was a decade ago—despite reforms that have included school re-staffings, closures, consolidations, new state standards and more stringent guidelines for evaluating teachers.