Our recent study, Needles in a Haystack: Lessons from high-performing, high-need urban schools, lifted up the successes of, and tried to extrapolate lessons from, urban schools that serve large numbers of poor kids well.  But poverty exists beyond city borders. Ohio’s highest unemployment rates exist in rural communities, and Appalachian southeastern Ohio in particular has long struggled with chronic poverty.  Still, just as we find in the big cities, schools in rural areas and small towns are also succeeding at delivering large numbers of poor students to high levels of achievement.

Using data from the Ohio Department of Education, we examined the 2009-10 academic performance of the 542 public schools where 75 percent or more of the students were eligible for free- or reduced-price lunch last year. This analysis includes rural, urban, and suburban schools, and district and charter schools alike.

Chart 1 shows the distribution of students in these schools by building rating.  Far too many -- nearly half -- of these students attend a school rated D or F by the state.  But it’s promising that fully 20 percent are in an A or B school.

Chart 1: Students in high-poverty schools by building rating, 2009-10

Source: Ohio’s interactive Local Report Card

In terms of raw achievement, several of these schools are doing very well.  A school’s “Performance Index score” gives an overall indication of how well its students are doing on the state’s tests, across all tested grades and subjects.  The PI score scale runs from 0 to 120 – the higher the score, the better achieving the school.  Of the high-poverty schools we examined, eight met the state’s goal of 100 or better for their PI score.  Another 72 had a PI score above 90, which is still outstanding, especially for schools serving highly challenged populations.

Incorporating the state’s value-added measure of student progress lets us see which schools are also helping their students make adequate annual academic progress.  As chart 2 shows, 65 percent of students in these high-poverty schools attend schools that are meeting or exceeding the state’s value-added expectations.

Chart 2: Students in high-poverty schools by building value-added rating, 2009-10

Source: Ohio’s interactive Local Report Card

Combining both achievement and progress allows us to ascertain the state’s very best high-poverty schools. Table 1 lists the top 15 high-performing, high-poverty schools last school year.

Table 1: Top 15 high-performing, high-poverty schools, 2009-10

Source: Ohio’s interactive Local Report Card

Includes only schools for which a Performance Index Score and value-added data were available.

Ohio’s economy is recovering, but slowly. The issue of how best to educate children in poverty will be a front burner issue for many of the state’s public schools for years to come.  It’s encouraging to see high-poverty schools doing well, proving that they can beat the odds and deliver challenged populations to high levels of academic achievement.

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