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Hood: Adjusting for student background

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North Carolina’s public schools are currently producing better results than you might think, according to a recent analysis of independent testing data. But there’s bad news, as well: North Carolina’s rate of improvement has lagged behind the national average since the turn of the 21st century.

Matthew Chingos is a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, which published his study last fall. Chingos analyzed state performance on reading and math exams administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). A random sample of students in each state takes these NAEP tests every two years.

Whenever test scores come out for schools, districts, or states, officials hasten to explain that there are many factors known to shape the results. They are right to do so. The characteristics of the families within which students grow up — household income, parental education, marital status, etc. — clearly affect student performance. Race and ethnicity exhibit statistical correlations with performance, as well, perhaps reflecting not only those family-background variables but also factors such as neighborhood effects, cultural norms, or discrimination.

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