The Negative Consequences of Using Percent of Free and Reduced Lunch as a Measure of Poverty in Schools: the Case of the State of Georgia
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Poverty has long been known to be strongly correlated with academic achievement. The Federal Government, the State of Georgia, and many other states have adopted the policy of reporting school-level poverty by the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced price lunch. However, as we show in this article, there is a severe restriction of range in the upper end of the free and reduced price lunch variable. The result is that when free and reduced price lunch is used as a proxy for poverty, the restriction in range can cause schools with students whose families tend to be just below the poverty threshold to ostensibly have the same level of poverty as schools with students whose families tend to be extremely poor. This can result in the systemic misallocation of resources from the schools with the most need and the miscalculation of value-added accountability estimates. The purpose of this study is to illustrate this phenomenon with recent pre-existing academic achievement and free and reduced price lunch data from over 1200 elementary schools in the State of Georgia.
KeywordsFree and reduced lunch Poverty Standardized testing Education Measurement
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