Study Finds Achievement Gap for California Children in Foster Care

California public school students in foster care tend to underperform their peers on standardized tests and comprise a distinct at-risk subgroup, a study by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd finds.

Based on an analysis of statewide data from the 2009-10 school year, the report, The Invisible Achievement Gap, Part 1 (116 pages, PDF), found that only 29 percent of California foster care students in grades 2 through 11 scored at "proficient" or "advanced" levels on the state standards test in English, compared with 40 percent of students of low socioeconomic status and 53 percent of all students in the state. Similar achievement gaps were found in mathematics, with 37 percent of foster care students in grades 2 through 7 testing at "proficient" or above, compared with 50 percent among low-SES students and 60 percent statewide; and between 12 and 13 percent testing at proficient or above in high school Algebra I and II, well below the 23 percent and 32 percent among low-SES students and statewide. Youth in foster care, who have the lowest rates of participation in California's statewide testing program, also are more likely to be African American, to be classified with a disability, to change schools during the academic year, and to be enrolled in the lowest-performing schools.

Funded by the Stuart Foundation, the report also found that students in foster care have a single-year dropout rate of 8 percent — nearly three times the statewide rate of 3 percent and well above the 3 percent to 5 percent rate among other at-risk groups. In 2009-10, students in foster care also had the lowest high school graduation rate among at-risk groups, 58 percent, compared with 79 percent of low-SES students and 84 percent of all students in the state.

"These findings help all of us understand that we have a long way to go to meet our education responsibilities to students in foster care," said Holly Jacobson, director of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd. "Our hope is that this new research will provide California's policy makers, educators, and child welfare professionals with a timely baseline of information on which to build knowledge and actions to improve education opportunities for this resilient but vulnerable student group."

"New Research Reveals Invisible Achievement Gap for Students in Foster Care." Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning Press Release 10/14/2013.