August 27, 2003
Academic Scores Hit Bottom
Hired by National University
By Amy Williams Staff Writer
FRESNO STATE --
It appears that California teachers have little effect on
students' academic performance of elementary, middle, andh
A Californjia state study released today by the Public Policy
Institute of California (PPIC) reports that students’ peers
have a stronger effect on their achievement than the qualifications
of their teachers or the size of their classes.
Using individual student-level data,
rather than the grade-leveldata contained in the statewide
data typically employed in suchstudies, the report draws into
question whether some of the most highly valued school resources
are really the primary determinants of student success.
Conducted in collaboration with the
San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), the study analyzes
gains in reading and math scores during the 1997-1998 through
1999-2000 school years, and finds that students made much
greater gains in years when peers in their grade earned high
scores on state standardized tests.
The report finds, for example, that
if an elementary student switches from a low performing grade-level
peer group to a high performing one, the student’s gains in
math scores will be 9 percent higher than they otherwise would
Although the study found that teacher
characteristics and class size can make a difference, they
do not appear to affect student performance to the extent
that many people believe. “Class size seems to matter more
in lower grades, while teacher experience and level of education
carry more weight in upper grades,” says PPIC senior fellow
and UC San Diego professor of economics Julian Betts, who
co-authored the study with PPIC research associate Andrew
Zau and PPIC research fellow Lorien Rice. “These are clearly
important factors, but our findings indicate that the achievement
of a student’s peers is more influential.
His leads to a powerful new idea:
Programs to boost chievement of low-scoring students could
‘spill over’, benefiting all students at the school.” The
report’s conclusions may provide new policy options for school
districts that are trying to improve student achievement with
limited financial resources.
Consistent with previous research,
the study, Determinants of Student Achievement: New Evidence
from San Diego, also found disturbing gaps between the academic
achievement of poor and more affluent students: In SDUSD,
a fifth grader attending a school at the highest socioeconomic
level reads at the same level as a tenth grader attending
a school at the lowest level.
[Editor's Note: The Public Policy Institute
is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving
public policy in California through independent, objective,
nonpartisan research on majoreconomic, social, and political
issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment
from William R. Hewlett.]
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