Students at Edison Elementary / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

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Test scores don’t necessarily mean what you think they mean. In fact, they are often more reliable indicators of a school’s poverty level than its academic quality.

And so with that mind, we’ve created a measurement that begins to control for poverty. The measurement was created in partnership with the Center for Research and Evaluation at UC San Diego Extension.

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The correlation between a school’s test score and its poverty level is extremely high – so much so that when you plot the two on a chart, test scores go up as poverty goes down at an almost 1:1 ratio.

Here are some important details to keep in mind about our methodology:

  • Our score combines a school’s performance on the state standardized tests for English language arts and math. That means you’re seeing an average, which could be masking certain characteristics. If a school did really, really well in math, but slightly below average in language arts, that school would still appear to be beating the odds.

The raw test scores we also have listed for each school should give you an idea of whether that is the case.

  • The test scores themselves are also different than those we would use in our traditional Parent’s Guide. In 2019-20, schools were exempt from taking standardized tests because of the pandemic. The last available year of data comes from 2018-19.

Rather than simply give you the test data from 2018-19, we averaged test data from the last three available years. We did the same thing with free- and reduced-price lunch data, which is frequently used to measure poverty, just to keep things consistent. Our new metric is based on that data.

  • One other note: Our data compares San Diego County Schools against themselves. In order to predict a school’s test scores based on its poverty level, we compiled all the testing and free- and reduced-price lunch data – a common indicator of a school’s poverty level – for each San Diego County school. If we had compared San Diego schools against the whole state, for instance, it’s possible they would have scored higher or lower.

Will Huntsberry

Will Huntsberry is a senior investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego. He can be reached by email or phone at

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