In the reauthorization debate, civil rights groups are pressing to have ESEA force states to "do something" in schools where students as a whole are making good progress but at-risk subgroups are falling behind. Their concerns are not unreasonable, to be sure. Schools should ensure that all students, especially those who are struggling academically, are making learning gains.
Yet it’s not clear how often otherwise good schools fail to contribute gains for their low-achievers. Is it widespread problem or fairly isolated? Just how many schools display strong overall results, but weak performance with at-risk subgroups?
To shine light on this question, we turn to Ohio. The Buckeye State’s accountability system has a unique feature: Not only does it report student growth results—i.e., “value added”—for a school as a whole, but also for certain subgroups. Herein we focus on schools’ results for their low-achieving subgroups—pupils whose achievement is in the bottom 20 percent statewide—since this group likely consists of a number of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, including from minority groups.
(The other subgroups with growth results are gifted and special needs students, who may not be as likely to come from disadvantaged families or communities. The state does not disaggregate...