Cover: Measuring School Poverty Matters, but How Should We Measure It?

Measuring School Poverty Matters, but How Should We Measure It?

Comparing Results of Survey Analyses Conducted Using Various Measures of School Poverty

Published Jun 8, 2022

by Sy Doan, Melissa Kay Diliberti, David Grant

Download Free Electronic Document

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 0.5 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.

Education researchers and policymakers have long used free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL) eligibility as a proxy for student, school, and district poverty. However, changes to eligibility requirements and increasing evidence that FRPL eligibility is not an accurate prediction of family income have led to growing concerns about whether FRPL-based measures can still be used reliably. In this paper, we seek to understand the relationship between school-level FRPL rates and alternative measures of school and community poverty and how these measures compare to one another as explanatory variables and covariates in analyses. As an illustrative example, we use data from a national survey of school principals to assess whether the selection of a specific school poverty measure over another has substantive implications on correlational analyses. We find that proxying school poverty using slightly different measures generally leads to finding relationships between predictor and outcome variables in the same direction with coefficients of approximately the same magnitude, but with differing levels of precision. Thus, we conclude that analyses that continue to rely solely on FRPL eligibility rates as a proxy for school poverty, despite known weaknesses, will generally uncover the same relationships as those that rely on alternative measures of school poverty.

Research conducted by

This research was conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

This report is part of the RAND working paper series. RAND working papers are intended to share researchers' latest findings and to solicit informal peer review. They have been approved for circulation by RAND but may not have been formally edited or peer reviewed.

This document and trademark(s) contained herein are protected by law. This representation of RAND intellectual property is provided for noncommercial use only. Unauthorized posting of this publication online is prohibited; linking directly to this product page is encouraged. Permission is required from RAND to reproduce, or reuse in another form, any of its research documents for commercial purposes. For information on reprint and reuse permissions, please visit www.rand.org/pubs/permissions.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.