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«Vanessa X. Barrat BethAnn Berliner This study was conducted under the auspices of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd, which ...»

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The Invisible

Achievement Gap

Education Outcomes of Students in

Foster Care in California’s Public Schools

PA R T O N E

Vanessa X. Barrat

BethAnn Berliner

This study was conducted under the auspices of the Center for the Future of Teaching

and Learning at WestEd, which is dedicated to improving teacher-development policy

and practice. For more than a decade, the Center has been steadfast in the pursuit of its

mission to ensure that every student in California’s elementary and secondary schools has a well‑prepared, effective, and caring teacher. WestEd, a research, development, and service agency, works with education and other communities to promote excellence, achieve equity, and improve learning for children, youth, and adults.

Funding for the study was generously provided by the Stuart Foundation.

The seeds for this study were planted in 2008 with a report commissioned by the Stuart Foundation as part of its Ready to Succeed initiative. That report presented a number of recommendations to improve the education outcomes of students in foster care, with an immediate call for data to be shared between California’s education and child welfare systems. Based on a vision developed by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning and the Stuart Foundation, in 2010 the Center hosted “Documenting the Education Outcomes of Children and Youth in Foster Care,” a policy forum that yielded data-sharing agreements and strategies to link the state’s child welfare and education data, paving the way for this first‑of‑its‑kind study in California.

This report is available online at http://cftl.org/documents/2013/IAG/Invisible_ Achievement_Gap_Full_Report.pdf

Suggested citation:

Barrat, V. X., & Berliner, B. (2013). The Invisible Achievement Gap, Part 1: Education Outcomes of Students in Foster Care in California’s Public Schools. San Francisco: WestEd.

© 2013 WestEd. All rights reserved.

Requests for permission to reproduce any parts of this report should be directed to:

WestEd Publications Center 730 Harrison Street San Francisco, CA 94107-1242 888-293-7833, fax 415-512-2024, permissions@WestEd.org, or http://www.WestEd.org/permissions Contents Executive summary i Acknowledgments v Introduction 1 Understanding students in foster care— by the numbers 6 Key findings about the characteristics of students in foster care and the schools they attend 9 Key findings about the academic achievement and education outcomes of students in foster care 24 Conclusion 42

–  –  –

Figure 1. Distribution of districts by the number of students in foster care enrolled in public school, 2009/10 7 Figure 2.

Distribution of students in foster care, low-socioeconomic-status students, and all students in California public schools, by race/ethnicity and by gender, 2009/10 10 Figure 3. Percentage of students by program eligibility, for students in foster care, low-socioeconomic-status students, and all students in California public schools, 2009/10 11 Figure 4. Distribution of students with disabilities by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) disability categories, for students in foster care, low-socioeconomic-status students, and all students in California public schools, 2009/10 13 Figure 5. Percentage of students more than one year older than the median age for grade, for students in foster care, low-socioeconomic-status students, and all students in California public schools, by grade level, grades K–9, 2009/10 15 Figure 6. Distribution across grade levels at the beginning of the school year, for students in foster care, low-socioeconomic-status students, and all students in California public schools, 2009/10 16 Figure 7. Number of schools attended during the school year, for students in foster care, low-socioeconomic-status students, and all students in California public schools, 2009/10 18 Figure 8. Percentage of students in foster care, low-socioeconomic-status students, and all students in California public schools enrolled in nontraditional public schools, by type of school of enrollment, 2009/10 19 Figure 9. Percentage of students in foster care, low-socioeconomic-status students, and all students in California public schools by the statewide school Academic Performance Index decile rank, 2009/10 22 Figure 10. Percentage of students in foster care, low-socioeconomic-status students, and all students in California public schools by similar schools Academic Performance Index decile rank, 2009/10 23 Figure 11. Percentage of students enrolled in fall who were tested in spring, by grade, for students in foster care, other at-risk student subgroups, and all students in California public schools, 2009/10 26 Figure 12. Percentage proficient or above for students in foster care, other at-risk student subgroups, and all students in California public schools for English language arts on the California Standards Test, grades 2–11, 2009/10 28 Figure 13. Percentage by performance level for students in foster care, other at-risk student subgroups, and all students in California public schools for English language arts on the California Standards Test, grades 2–11, 2009/10 29 Figure 14. Percentage proficient or above for students in foster care, other at-risk student subgroups, and all students in California public schools for mathematics on the California Standards Test, grades 2–7, 2009/10 30 Figure 15. Percentage by performance level for students in foster care, other at-risk student subgroups, and all students in California public schools for mathematics on the California Standards Test, grades 2–7, 2009/10 31 Figure 16. Percentage proficient or above for students in foster care, other at-risk student subgroups, and all students in California public schools for algebra I and algebra II on the California Standards Test, 2009/10 33 Figure 17. Percentage by performance level for students in foster care, other at-risk student subgroups, and all students in California public schools for algebra I and algebra II on the California Standards Test, 2009/10 35 Figure 18. Percentage of tested grade-10 students who passed both the English language arts and mathematics parts of the California High School Exit Exam, for students in foster care, other at-risk student subgroups, and all students in California public schools, 2009/10 37 Figure 19. Single-year dropout rate for students in foster care, other at-risk student subgroups, and all students in California public schools, grades 9–12, 2009/10 39 Figure 20. Single-year dropout rate by grade for students in foster care, other at-risk student subgroups, and all students in California public schools, grades 9–12, 2009/10 40 Figure 21. Percentage of grade-12 graduates, for students in foster care, other at-risk student subgroups, and all students in California public schools, 2009/10 41 Figure A. Overview of the matching process 50





List of Tables

Table 1. The 10 California school districts enrolling the most students who were in foster care, 2009/10 8 Table A1.

Percentage of compound/hyphenated first and last names in the California Department of Education and California Department of Social Services datasets 47 Table A2. California Department of Education students and California Department of Social Services clients with information on city of residence, city of school, and middle name 48 Table B1. Number and percentage of all students, low-socioeconomic-status students, and students in foster care in California public schools, by demographic characteristics, 2009/10 56 Table B2. Number and percentage of all students, low-socioeconomic-status students, and students in foster care in California public schools, by school characteristics, 2009/10 60 Table B3. Number and percentage of all students, students in foster care, and students in other at-risk student subgroups in California public schools who participated in the state’s Standardized Testing and Reporting Program in English language arts or mathematics, 2009/10 62 Table B4. Number of students in foster care, other at-risk student subgroups, and all students in California public schools, by California Standards Test performance levels in English language arts, mathematics, algebra I, and algebra II, 2009/10 64 Table B5. Percentage of students in foster care, other at-risk student subgroups, and all students in California public schools, by California Standards Test performance levels in English language arts, mathematics, algebra I, and algebra II, 2009/10 65 Table B6. Number and percentage of grade-10 students who passed the English language arts, mathematics, and both parts of the California High School Exit Examination, for students in foster care, other at-risk student subgroups, and all students in California public schools, 2009/10 66 Table B7. The single-year dropout rate by grades 9–12 for students in foster care, other at-risk student subgroups, and all students in California public schools, 2009/10 67 Table B8. Number and percentage of grade-12 graduates for students in foster care, other at-risk student subgroups, and all students in California public schools, 2009/10 68 Table C1. Public school students in foster care by California county for school year 2009/10 70 Table C2. Public school students in foster care by California county and by school district for school year 2009/10 72 Executive summary One of the most vexing problems for California, a state that is committed to providing high-quality public education for all students, has been the persistently low academic achievement of racial/ethnic minority students, English learners, students raised in poverty, and students with disabilities. For many years, closing these achievement gaps has been a priority. Yet, until recently, reform efforts have rarely acknowledged another group of students who also persistently underperform: students in foster care.

As is the case for many other states, California has had little statewide information about the education of school-aged children and youth who are in the foster-care system and for whom the state is legally responsible. This is largely due to challenges related to the availability, collection, and sharing of information about these students across the education and child welfare systems, which do not have a common unique student identifier for students who are in both systems. As a result, the education needs of these students have often gone unrecognized and unmet—leaving many of them trailing their classmates in academic achievement. It is this achievement gap that has been largely invisible to educators and child welfare professionals alike.

This report, The Invisible Achievement Gap, Part 1: Education Outcomes of Students in Foster Care in California’s Public Schools, sponsored by the Stuart Foundation, underscores and refines the message from a growing body of research literature that students in foster care constitute a distinct subgroup of academically at-risk students—a message that has not yet been clearly or fully translated from research to policy to practice.

The two-part study on which this report is based breaks new ground on this important issue by linking statewide individual student education data and child welfare data to create a first‑ ever education snapshot of all K–12 students in foster care in California. The first part of the study, reported here, describes the previously undocumented achievement gap for California students in foster care, by comparing their academic outcomes to those of the state’s K–12 population as a whole and of other at-risk subgroups with documented achievement gaps, specifically, students designated as having low socioeconomic status (SES), English learners, and students with disabilities. Given the strong association that research has found between family poverty and children’s placement in foster care, the comparison between students in foster care and low‑SES students was particularly important for uncovering any differences in education outcomes for these two student populations. The second part of the study, reported in The Invisible Achievement Gap, Part 2—How the Foster-Care Experiences of California Public School Students Are Associated With Their Education Outcomes, used the same data to create a complementary snapshot that looks exclusively within the population of K–12 students in foster care to examine the relationship between education outcomes and specific characteristics of the foster‑care experience.

Backed by its sweeping new school finance reform plan, California is now setting out to track the academic progress of students in foster care—the first state in the nation to do so. Thus, the findings reported below are especially timely. Taken together, they show that i California students in foster care have unique characteristics that justify their identification as a separate at‑risk student subgroup and that this subgroup has a significant achievement gap compared to the other student groups. These findings serve as new evidence for policymakers to use in continuing efforts to improve the academic success of students in foster care. Specific areas needing attention will be identified in Addressing the Invisible Achievement Gap—Areas of Focus for Improving Education Outcomes for California Students in Foster Care, a CenterView from the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning that draws from this report and will be released in late 2013.

A count of the number of students in foster care and the findings follow.

Understanding students in foster care—by the numbers.

In California, 5,969,112 K–12 students ages 5–17 were enrolled in the state’s public schools on the official census date for the 2009/10 school year. Among them were 43,140 students— about 1 of every 150 students—who had spent a period of time in child welfare supervised foster care that year.

In 2009/10, one in five California school districts reported enrolling no students in foster care and the majority of districts reported having between 1 and 49 students in foster care.

In fact, for the time period of this study, the majority of California students in foster care were enrolled in just a small number of districts. Specifically, two thirds of these students were enrolled in 10 percent of the state’s school districts, with each of these districts enrolling at least 100 students in foster care.

Finding 1: Students in foster care constituted an at-risk subgroup that was distinct from low-SES students.



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