Report: Massachusetts students perform best in the country — even when adjusted for demographics

It’s not the first time a study hasfound that Massachusetts students perform the best in the country. But often those studies do not account for a key metric: demographics.

A report published Monday from the Urban Institute, a D.C.-based think tank, however, found that Massachusetts students achieved highest compared to students in other states, even when outcomes were adjusted for demographics.

Massachusetts scored tops in the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, before the scores were demographically adjusted. But other studies have shown that many outside factors, such as family income, can fundamentally affect how students do in the classroom. As Matthew Chingos, senior fellow and author of the Urban Institute pointed out in his study, Mississippi has double the poverty rate of Massachusetts. Mississippi also performs significantly lower in student performance measures.


In an effort to address those factors and truly measure state education systems, the Urban Institute looked at student-level, adjusted scores, based on federal student demographic data, including race, family structure, income, English proficiency, and resources at home.

“This means that states are judged by how well their students do relative to students with similar characteristics across the country,’’ Chingos wrote.

Massachusetts still came in first, though not by as wide a margin as before.

Previously middle-of-the-pack-performing Texas and Florida jumped to the top, when student scores were demographically-adjusted.

“To be sure, the adjusted performance measures for [Massachusetts and New Jersey] are smaller than their unadjusted measures,’’ Chingos wrote. “My analysis indicates that their students are 6–9 months ahead of their peers in the average state, as compared with the 10–12 months suggested by the raw data.’’

The study also looked at how much student performances had progressed from 2003 to 2013. This time when scores demographically adjusted, Massachusetts students were the ones moving up in the rankings (from seventh to fourth) — with an improvement from 7.9 months ahead of their peers to 12.8 months ahead.

Chingos warns that the data still has limitations — such as other unaccounted for outside factors and the fact that some demographic measures mean different things across state lines — but that it yields the foundation for future studies.


“For example, demographically adjusted test performance could be used to identify state education policies (e.g., regarding funding or accountability) that coincide with strong performance and thus merit more careful study,’’ he wrote.

One thing that is clear: Massachusetts is doing something right.

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