Correlates of State Educational Performance

Why do some states achieve higher levels of student academic performance than others? Shilpa Gunuganti examines academic performance correlations in the data.


Literature Review


Why do some states achieve higher levels of student academic performance than others? I correlate academic performance with factors such as teacher retention and state education funding.


A paper by Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond (2017) found that teacher turnover varies widely by region and state. They offer extensive research on the predictors of turnover and outline policy considerations to reduce turnover. I will employ their definition of teacher turnover which is the composite of retirement leavers, preretirement leavers, and movers. To extend their argument, I will establish the correlation between a state’s student academic performance and teacher turnover, and thus, the importance of reducing turnover. Without that clearly established correlation, it is difficult to argue the necessity of policy changes to decrease teacher turnover.


Research on the relationship between school funding and student academic achievement has been successful in finding a positive relationship but often focuses on specific localities. Kreisman and Steinberg (2019), for example, studied Texas’s school funding formula to analyze the effect of discretionary spending on student academic performance. They found that an additional $1,000 in base funding leads to a 0.1 s.d. increase in ELA scores, a 0.08 s.d. increase in math, a one percentage point decrease in dropout rates (25%), and 6 percentage point increase in college enrollment. I hope to expand on this research by offering a broad state-by-state national analysis of educational outcomes and funding that is not unique to a particular state or region.


State Academic Performance and Education Budget

I find weak (positive) correlations between student standardized test performance and a state’s per pupil spending of public elementary-secondary school systems. For the year 2016, the relationship between math standardized test scores for grade 8 students and a state per pupil spending has a Pearson’s correlation coefficient of about 0.151. In the year 2016, the relationship between reading standardized test scores for grade 8 students and state per pupil spending has a Pearson’s correlation coefficient of about 0.153.


Figure 1: Grade 8 Average NAEP Math Standardized Test Scores vs State Per Pupil Public Elementary-Secondary School System Spending (2016)


Figure 2: Grade 8 Average NAEP Reading Standardized Test Scores vs State Per Pupil Public Elementary-Secondary School System Spending (2016)


State Academic Performance and Teacher Attrition

I find moderate (negative) correlations between student standardized test performance and state teacher turnover rate. NAEP grade 8 math standardized test scores from 2013 and teacher turnover between 2012-2013 have a Pearson’s correlation coefficient of 0.380. Reading NAEP standardized tests scores of grade 8 students in 2013 and teacher turnover between 2012-2013 have a Pearson’s correlation coefficient of about 0.520.


Figure 3: Grade 8 Average NAEP Math Standardized Test Scores vs State Teacher Turnover Rate (2012-2013)


Figure 4: Grade 8 Average NAEP Reading Standardized Test Scores vs State Teacher Turnover Rate (2012-2013)

IV. Conclusion


Student math and reading standardized test performance is shown to have a weak positive correlation with state per pupil funding of elementary-secondary school systems and a moderate negative correlation with state teacher turnover rate. These results partially support the idea that education funding and a stable teaching workforce produce stronger academic performance results among students.