Why SED Latinx 3rd Graders?
The Report Card analysis is based on the performance of socio-economically disadvantaged (SED) Latinx (Hispanic and Latino) 3rd graders. There are obviously other groups that are also interesting and important - achievement for all students is important! So why the focus on this particular group?
Why SED Latinx?
First, to compare districts, we must focus on student sub-group results - we need to compare "apples to apples." If we compare overall student results, the different mix of students between districts will skew the results. A district with few SED students will likely have higher achievement than one with many, not because they do a better job teaching reading, but because non-SED students tend to have advantages that result in higher scores.
We could compare student achievement by ethnic group (Asian, Latinx, etc.). Many make and interpret these comparisons. But this also creates "mix" issues. The mix of SED and non-SED families within each group can vary substantially by community, and SED status is highly correlated with student achievement. That's why the California Department of Education reports student achievement by ethnic group broken down by SED status.
When looking at sub-groups broken down by SED and ethnic group status, the largest group in California is SED Latinx students, who make up 43% of all California students. As a result of being so populous, they represent a meaningful number of students in almost all California school districts; there are 287 districts with 100 or more SED Latinx 3rd graders, and those districts represent 72% of all California students. Another group of interest is SED African American students. By contrast, there are only 37 districts with 100+ students in this group. To ensure that we are comparing "apples to apples," the rankings are based on SED Latinx students only.
While we have ranked districts based on SED Latinx students, we feel this actually tells us a lot about how districts teach all their students. First, most districts standardize curriculum and instruction methods across the district - they do not have different approaches by schools or category of student. So schools in SED Latinx neighborhoods will likely use the same curriculum and instruction as in other neighborhoods.
Second, SED Latinx students are less likely to receive outside academic supports (e.g., from a family member or an paid tutor) than non-SED families - this means that their results reflect the school's efforts, not the school's plus outside resources. Efforts to improve instruction of SED Latinx students will also certainly improve outcomes for all students.
Why 3rd Grade?
Third grade reading achievement is widely recognized as a critical milestone for future student success, both in school and in life. See for example the Annie E. Casey Foundation's, "Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters" (2010) for a thorough discussion of the impact of reading skills on school and life prospects with accompanying references.
In addition, while some districts see meaningful changes in ELA student achievement after 3rd grade, most do not. Third grade is the earliest grade where we have statewide student achievement indicators (driven by federal ESSA requirements). This most likely masks significant issues that are arising before 3rd grade, in the core years where children are developing the neurological pathways for decoding and comprehending text. If we miss this developmental window for learning basic reading skills, it requires significant additional effort (by both school and the student) to acquire them later. 8th grade achievement and ranking for ranked districts is available here.