Panel Paper: The Opportunity Index: An Algorithm to Assess the Gap between Resources and Students’ Needs

Thursday, November 8, 2018
Lincoln 3 - Exhibit Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Nancy Hill1,2, Daniel T. O'Brien2,3, Colin Rose4, Eleanor Laurans4 and Mariah Contreras5, (1)Harvard University, (2)Boston Area Research Initiative, (3)Northeastern University, (4)Boston Public Schools, (5)Tufts University

Many districts across the nation are implementing school choice enrollment policies in an attempt to give families greater access to high quality schools that meet their needs and match their interests. As one consequence of such policies, there is an increasing disconnection between schools themselves and the neighborhood-based resources of the students enrolled. That is, because students come from a wide variety of home neighborhoods, school-level leaders may be unware of the challenges and assets based on neighborhood characteristics that students experience and effectively bring with them to school. Therefore, school-leaders may be unaware of the real resources needed to best serve students. Because enrolled students do not come from schools’ surrounding communities, it cannot be assumed that the student body’s needs can be estimated or met by the resources surrounding the school. To better assess and gauge the needs of schools, Boston Public Schools and the Boston Area Research Initiative collaborated and developed the Opportunity Index (OI). This index is designed to estimate the risks that students are exposed to in their neighborhoods in light of their neighborhood assets.
The OI is a place-based metric that captures inequities in academic achievement that arise from factors that are outside the control of schools for which schools may attempt to compensate. The purpose of the metric is to assess and estimate levels program needs and then inform funding decisions. The assumption is that to increase equity and mitigate demographic gaps in achievement opportunity schools will require different levels of funding to best serve students bodies that have different levels of aggregate risk or disadvantage. Based in prevailing sociological and psychological theories on how neighborhood context influences academic achievement, the OI was developed by integrating existing administrative data from the US Census, City of Boston, and Boston Public Schools to assess neighborhood-level and individual-level characteristics that might impact students’ readiness to learn and ultimately academic achievement.
In validating the OI and testing its utility in practice, we found that neighborhoods varied by as much as 20 points in the expected standardized tests scores, with the academic attainment of other adults living in the neighborhood, neighborhood level SES, and public safety being the strongest and most consistent predictors across elementary, middle, and high school. In addition, we found that the individual and neighborhood predictors varied to some degree among elementary, middle and high school levels. This presentation will discuss the tension inherent in accounting for student racial background and residential segregation based on race. Whereas school districts cannot make funding decisions based on the racial or ethnic makeup of school populations, race and ethnicity remained significant predictors beyond the neighborhood and sociodemographic factors.
This presentation will focus on the policy context that motivated the development of the OI and the methodological and statistical processes its construction and validation. We will discuss its potential for increasing equity by more accurately determining the resources schools need to ensure that their students come to school ready to learn.