California Beating-The-Odds Schools, 2013

By Adam Voight, Gregory Austin

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How are some middle and high schools in California beating the academic achievement odds? What factors into their success?

This report uses school academic performance data to identify California schools that beat the odds by performing better than would have been predicted based on their students’ socioeconomic characteristics and by doing so for at least four consecutive years.

Overall, 192, or 2.9 percent, of California public schools were identified as beating the odds, including 122 elementary schools, 37 middle schools, and 33 high schools.

How did these schools foster higher levels of academic success than their peer schools?

One key factor is a positive school climate. Confirming the results of a previous WestEd study of California secondary schools, the 2013 Beating the Odds secondary schools had significantly higher School Climate Index scores compared to the middle and high schools that did not make the list.

This finding underscores the importance of making school climate improvement a priority in Local Control and Accountability Plans.

This report was developed by the Health and Human Development Program at WestEd. To learn more about how positive school climate is a factor strongly associated with beating the academic achievement odds, read A Climate for Academic Success: How School Climate Distinguishes Schools That Are Beating the Achievement Odds.

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1 review for California Beating-The-Odds Schools, 2013

  1. s randall
    1 out of 5


    How is this study supposed to be measurably different than California’s own “Similar Schools Rank”?

    Please publish a complete list of scores too.

    • Colleen Montoya


      Thank you for your interest in WestEd’s study as well as your question. The similar schools rank is the ranking of a school on one year of API data relative to the 100 other schools that are identified as serving students who are demographically similar to those of a particular school. To determine whether schools are demographically similar, the California Department of Education creates a composite measure of a school’s background characteristics (School Characteristics Index) based on, among other things, student mobility, race/ethnicity, and free/reduced-price lunch status.

      To be defined as a beating-the-odds school, a school must exhibit math and English language arts test score performance that is significantly higher than would be expected based on the school’s demographic characteristics for multiple years. In general, schools with low similar schools rankings are more likely to also be beating-the-odds schools, but more stringent criteria are used to define beating-the-odds schools.

      Regarding the scores, as discussed in the report’s Methods appendix, they are in the form of residuals (i.e., differences between actual and predicted APIs) from the regression model that predicted API based on a school’s demographics. Instead of treating “beating-the-odds” as a continuous indicator, we chose a specific residual value at which to dichotomize schools as either beating-the-odds or not, thus making it a binary variable (i.e., 0 = below cutoff residual value and “not-beating-the-odds”; 1 = at or above cutoff residual value and “beating-the-odds”). Thus, we don’t have specific scores to report for each school. This approach was initially adopted in our 2013 report, A Climate for Academic Success, in order to approximate a previous study by the American Institutes for Research that explored differences in personnel resources between beating-the-odds and non-beating-the-odds schools.

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