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Arizona's Invisible Achievement Gap: Education Outcomes of Students in Foster Care in the State’s Public Schools

By Vanessa Ximenes Barrat, BethAnn Berliner, Natalie Felida


This report contributes to a growing body of research showing that students in foster care constitute a distinct subgroup of academically at-risk students — a message that has not yet been clearly or fully translated from research to policy to practice.

The study on which this report is based breaks new ground in Arizona by linking individual student education data and child welfare data to create the state’s first-ever education snapshot of all K–12 students in foster care.

It describes the previously undocumented achievement gap for Arizona students in foster care. It does so by comparing these students’ academic outcomes to those of the state’s K–12 population as a whole and to other at-risk subgroups with documented achievement gaps, specifically, low-socioeconomic-status (low-SES) students, English language learners, and students with disabilities.

Given the strong association that research has found between family poverty and children’s placement in foster care, the comparison between students in foster care and low-SES students was particularly important for uncovering any differences in education outcomes for these two student populations.

Some Key Findings

  • Students in foster care constituted an at-risk subgroup that was distinct from low-SES students
  • Students in foster care were more likely than other students to change schools during the school year
  • Students in foster care were more likely than the statewide student population to be enrolled in low-performing schools

The findings are especially timely given efforts to improve accountability in the state’s child welfare system. Policymakers can draw upon the findings as they endeavor to improve the academic success of students in foster care.

Resource Details

Product Information

Copyright: 2015
Format: PDF
Pages: 61
Publisher: WestEd