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Grim Portrait of Foster Youth in California Schools

In a first-of-its-kind academic portrait of California's foster children, researchers today unveiled a report that shows that students living in foster homes are twice as likely to drop out of school as other students and significantly trail their low-income peers on other academic measures.

Twenty-nine percent of students in foster care reached proficiency or higher on the California state exam in English/language arts in 2009-10, compared to 40 percent of students who are low-income, and 53 percent of all students. In high school, roughly 13 percent of foster youth reached proficiency or higher on state exams in Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 in  2009-10, while for low-income students and all students proficiency rates were 23 percent and 32 percent respectively.

In that same school year, 58 percent of students in foster care graduated from grade 12. By comparison, 79 percent of low SES and 84 percent of all students earned a high school diploma.

Those gaps for students in foster homes are revealed for the first time because of rules tied to the state's new schools funding formula that holds public schools directly accountable for the academic achievement of foster students. 

The report, called The Invisible Achievement Gap, was published by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd, a San Francisco-based research organization. The analysis draws on statewide individual student education data and child welfare data—a linkage made possible by California's new student funding formula.

The study also delves into characteristics specific to foster youth and how those are connected to their educational outcomes. 

Advocates have said the new accountability required for foster youth in California is a game changer for an often-hidden population in schools. In California, school staff may not even know they have foster children enrolled because there is no formal process for reporting that status to schools. That will also change under the new funding/accountability arrangement.

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