Study: School mobility linked to test scores

By Denise Dick


Student mobility — students who move into and out of school districts for reasons other than promotion — is higher in urban districts such as Youngstown, linking to lower test scores, according to a recent study.

The Thomas Fordham Institute in Columbus, an education-advocacy organization, released the Ohio Student Mobility Research Project last month, examining the issue in more than 3,000 Ohio schools.

Youngstown Superintendent Connie Hathorn, whose district sees 74 percent stability in kindergarten through seventh grade and 65 percent stability in higher grades, said it presents challenges.

The district earned an academic watch rating on the 2010-11 state report card and is expected to maintain that rating when official report card information is released early next year.

“First, we have to test them — assess where the kid is and adjust instruction and determine the needs of the student,” he said.

It’s something most urban districts must contend with, he said.

Youngstown also deals with students who move from school to school within the district. As part of the academic recovery plan aimed at improving city school students’ test scores, all of the school buildings follow the same instructional model.

“Previously, if a student moved from Harding to Martin Luther King, for example, they’d have a different instructional model,” Hathorn said.

The plan calls for all students in the same grade across the district to learn the same concepts at the same time, so if students move from one city school to another, their education won’t be disrupted.

“We found that student mobility is an issue facing not just large, urban school districts,” Roberta Garber, executive director of Community Research Partners, which also worked on the study, said in a news release.

Charts provided with the study don’t list every district in the state — only those with high and low stability, based on various criteria.

The study analyzed the mobility and test scores of the state’s largest urban districts — Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo and Dayton — finding that the more a student moves, the more likely he or she is to achieve lower state test scores.

Campbell boasts one of the highest stability rates in lower grades among districts with high economic disadvantage, according to the study. It found 83 percent stability in kindergarten through seventh grade and 65 percent in eighth through 12 grades.

That district was rated effective on the 2010-11 state report card and is expected to see an excellent rating when the official data is released for 2011-12.

An ongoing statewide review by the state auditor’s office of student attendance records has delayed official report card data, which is usually released in late August.

“There are also suburban, small city and rural schools with many students moving in and out,” Garber noted.

Bloomfield-Mesopotamia in Trumbull County, considered a rural/agricultural district, has student stability rates near 70 percent as well. That district was rated excellent last year and is expected to improve to excellent with distinction, the state’s highest rating, when the latest data is released.

Liberty is another district that seems to buck the trend.

While its stability rate for kindergarten through seventh grade is low at 61 percent, the district was designated effective on the 2010-11 state report card and will likely see an excellent designation for 2011-12.

About 60 percent of Liberty students are con-sidered economically disadvantaged.

“That’s the struggle when you have high transients and you have people that are moving into your district and who are not brought along and understand what you’re trying to accomplish,” said Superintendent Stan Watson.

The district must work to get those students caught up.

“That’s a concern of mine for the third-grade guarantee,” Watson said.

The third-grade guarantee requires students to be up to the third-grade reading level by third grade or face risk of being retained.

“Poverty and mobility are two huge battles,” he said. “It’s a dual-edged sword. You have to make sure you differentiate instruction, make sure you’re not just using one prescription for every kid and make sure you’re working diligently to get them all up to speed.”

The district has seen 84 students enroll since the beginning of the school year and 72 of them, or 82 percent of them, are eligible for free and reduced lunches.

Some other Valley districts see low mobility rates.

Western Reserve Schools, which routinely scores an excellent rating, sees little student mobility. The study found its stability rate at 98 percent for kindergarten through seventh-graders, making it the second highest in the state, according to researchers.

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