NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Lower Funding, Higher Test Scores

August 10, 2011

It's a trend that would seem to defy conventional wisdom: As public school spending has declined in California in recent years, student achievement test scores have gone up, says the Sacramento Bee.

  • Statewide, school districts spent 6 percent less from 2008 to 2010, but the percentage of second- to seventh-grade students scoring proficient on the state's standardized English test rose from 48 percent to 55 percent.
  • School districts in the four-county Sacramento region cut annual spending by about $120 million, or 4.4 percent, from 2008 to 2010.
  • But during that same period student test scores improved significantly.
  • The percentage of Sacramento area second- through seventh-graders, for instance, scoring proficient or advanced in English jumped from 53 percent to 59 percent, while the portion scoring proficient or above in math went from 57 percent to 62 percent.

So, are educators finding ways to do more with less?  Has student learning been largely unaffected by the spending cuts?  The reviews are mixed.

  • Assemblyman Don Wagner, an Irvine Republican who sits on the Assembly Education Committee, said the findings underscore the tenuous connection between public education spending and student learning.
  • Sacramento County schools Superintendent David Gordon offers a sharply different perspective, saying state achievement tests measure only selected skills, and the scores don't necessarily reflect the toll spending cuts have taken on the classroom.

Source: Diana Lambert and Phillip Reese, "Public Schools See Paradox of Lower Funding, Higher Test Scores," Sacramento Bee, July 2, 2011.

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