National study compares academic achievement per dollar spent
A national study of school district efficiency placed Lake Washington School District among those in the state of Washington with high achievement and low cost. Return on Educational Investment: A district-by-district evaluation of U.S. educational productivity gave Lake Washington its highest rating on “Basic ROI,” a measure that compared academic achievement per dollar spent, adjusting for concentrations of low-income, non-English-speaking and special education students.
The Center for American Progress study reviewed standardized test scores and expenditures for school districts with more than 250 students nationwide. Within each state, it placed school districts in three tiers for adjusted cost per student and achievement. Lake Washington was placed in the top tier for high achievement and the top tier for lowest cost.
The achievement scores were based on average scores for state standardized tests in reading and math in fourth, eighth and tenth grades. All data was from 2008, the latest year for which financial information was available nationwide.
The report’s authors encourage caution in interpreting individual district evaluations. The quality of data collected varies from state to state and even district to district. However, these calculations are the first to provide a return on investment benchmark for public schools.
“As a district, we have worked hard to use taxpayer dollars wisely, focusing on where they can make the most difference for student achievement,” noted Dr. Chip Kimball, superintendent. “In their statewide comparison, it shows that we are on the right track.”
The study identified specific attributes shared by the most productive school districts nationwide. They included:
- A focus on outcomes
- Strong community relations
- A willingness to make tough choices
- A priority on quality instruction
- Smart use of data
“The five attributes identified in this study are all areas we have been working on,” noted Dr. Kimball. “The budget cuts of the last few years have forced us to make very careful decisions, reviewing all expenditures and programs to make sure we are preserving those that make a difference in student learning. Our improvement processes have focused on quality instruction. And we are developing a new data dashboard to help us keep better track of where learning is happening and where students are struggling, down to the individual student level.”
Lake Washington received the second highest rating of the six possible levels on two other rankings, an adjusted return on investment index that uses a regression analysis to predict how much a district should have spent and a predicted efficiency rating, which measures whether a district’s achievement is higher or lower than would be predicted after accounting for its per-pupil spending and concentration of low-income, non-English-speaking and special education students.
For more information on the report and its findings, including an interactive map, go to the Center for American Progress website.