Students of Color Show Extraordinary Levels of Academic Achievement in Some California School Districts

In some California school districts, students of color are reaching extraordinary levels of academic achievement—defying trends and exceeding the performance of students of similar backgrounds in other districts across the state. A new report by the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) examined which districts have excelled at supporting the learning of students of color as well as White students, taking into account their socioeconomic status. The report also looked into the practices in these districts to see what might be making the difference and found that teacher qualifications are the most significant school-related predictors of student achievement, as measured by California’s new assessments in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics.

The new report, California’s Positive Outliers: Districts Beating the Odds[1],[2] finds that the proportion of teachers holding substandard credentials—such as emergency permits, waivers and intern credentials—is significantly and negatively associated with student achievement for all students. In 2017–18, the Teacher Credentialing Commission authorized more than 12,000 substandard permits and credentials, representing half of the entering workforce in that year. These underprepared teachers are disproportionately assigned to schools serving the largest shares of students of color and students from low-income families throughout the state.

In addition, teachers’ average experience in the district is positively associated with achievement for African American and Latino/a students. These findings spotlight the impact that the state’s shortage of qualified teachers has on student achievement, particularly in districts where unprepared teachers are disproportionately assigned to schools serving the largest share of students of color and from low-income families.

“The research finds that providing students with qualified, fully-prepared teachers is a critical component for raising student achievement,” said LPI Researcher and Policy Analyst Anne Podolsky, who was lead author on the report. “Fully prepared teachers are also 2 to 3 times less likely to leave the profession early. Thus, solving shortages depends on making preparation more affordable and incentivizing teachers to enter the fields and communities where they are most needed. Effective strategies include teacher residencies, supports for classified staff to earn credentials, and forgivable loans that underwrite teachers’ preparation.”

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