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Struggling students have mixed results in Title I program

Seattle Public Schools
Test scores for some students who get services through the federal Title I program have improved in Washington, according to a report.

Some students with the lowest test scores in Washington have made big gains over the past few years, while others have fallen farther behind.

Researchers found a mixed bag when they looked at the Title I program, a federal effort to help disadvantaged kids.

Nancy Kober, co-author of the study for the Center on Education Policy, says she’d expect kids in the program to be making progress. It gives states extra money for school districts to pay for tutors, additional class time or other supports for struggling students.

“So, if they’re getting these extra services and it doesn’t seem to be making any difference on the tests that count for their state accountability and federal accountability, then that would raise alarms about whether the instruction they’re being provided is effective," she says.

She says no alarm bells went off when she looked at Washington’s middle and high school results.  Improvements in 8th grade math and high school reading test scores outpaced a lot of other states.

Here's a breakdown of how much scores went up per year, on average, in the time period covered by the report:

  • 8th grade reading = 0.7 points
  • 8th grade math = 4.0 points
  • High school reading = 4.4 points
  • High school math = 1.0 points

What concerns Kober is 4th grade math. Scores dropped an average of 0.6 percent per year between 2004 and 2009. That's despite most of Title I funding going to elementary schools.

Gayle Pauley, director of the state's Title I programs, says she's not too worried about the results:

“I would be worried if that negative number kept growing," she says. "But this is such a small [decline] for math for Title I students. It’s almost a wash.”

By her math, the tiny bump in 4th grade reading would get scrubbed, too. In that subject area, Title I elementary students gained just 0.2 percent a year on average.

Pauley points out that while Title I elementary students don’t seem to be making much headway, the achievement gap is closing. 

Only trouble is, the report shows that’s because test scores are improving even less for kids who don’t get the services.