Policy brief

Penalizing Diverse Schools?

Similar Test Scores, but Different Students, Bring Federal Sanctions
John R. Novak
Long Beach Unified School District
Bruce Fuller
University of California, Berkeley

This brief details how schools serving diverse students in California are less likely to achieve their growth targets and be subjected to stiff federal sanctions. Schools enrolling more demographic subgroups do serve students who tend to score lower on standardized tests. Yet even when students display almost identical average test scores, schools with more subgroups are more likely to miss their growth targets under federal rules set by the No Child Left Behind Act.

Schools serving middle-class children, for example, are 28% more likely to be labeled “needs improvement” by the feds when serving five student subgroups than are schools serving one group. This disparity exists even though average test scores are just five percentile points apart between schools. Also, schools with large numbers of Latino students from low-income homes display especially low odds of hitting growth targets.

Is it fair or motivating to label a school as failing simply because it serves more diverse students, not because its overall achievement level is lower?

Suggested citationNovak, J. R., & Fuller, B. (2003, December). Penalizing diverse schools? Similar test scores, but different students, bring federal sanctions [Policy brief]. Policy Analysis for California Education. https://edpolicyinca.org/publications/penalizing-diverse-schools