Relationship between School Performance and Poverty, 2019

Atlanta Public Schools has the most diverse portfolio of schools in the state. We have schools in some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Georgia and schools in some of the poorest. The graph below shows that these schools have very different math achievement levels:

Use the filters on the left to select different grades, subjects, or performance metrics.

The challenge index measures the percentage of students who are either directly certified1 for free lunch or English language learners. Only about 3% of APS students are English Language Learners, so for most schools the challenge index can be thought of approximately as a measure of poverty.

Comparing schools with similar challenge indices is helpful for understanding school performance. A school that is above the trend line has higher test scores than other schools with a similar level of poverty. But of course this view isn’t conclusive- two schools with similar challenge indices might differ in other ways that is not captured by the challenge index.

The first graph uses average test score2 to show performance. The next graph uses percentage of students scoring distinguished. Notice that this metric emphasizes differences between the low-poverty schools on the left hand side. Morningside and Drew are highlighted to show their growth over time. Click on other schools to see their change over time.

The next graph shows the percentage of students scoring developing and above on English Language Arts. Notice that although there is a strong relationship between school-level poverty and test scores, there are schools with the same poverty level that have more than a 20-point difference in the percentage of students scoring developing and above.

The last graph shows the percentage of high school students scoring proficient and above across all subjects, except physical science3. Use the subject filter to see how schools compare for specific subjects.

For more Milestones results, see our posts on state percentile ranks or achievement. If you would like to know about similar posts, please subscribe to the blog.


  1. A student is directly certified for free lunch if their household receives state anti-poverty aid (SNAP or TANF) or if the student is homeless, an unaccompanied youth, or a migrant. This measure is used instead of the more general “free and reduced lunch” because many APS schools use the CEP option for whole-school free lunch. Poverty rates are lower when using direct certified instead of free lunch, but the rank-ordering of schools is mostly the same.
  2. Average test scores are converted to normal curve equivalents (NCE) to more accurately average across grades and subjects. The district average NCE score is normed to 50 each year, so the typical school will not show NCE growth over time if it does not improve relative to other schools. The same school could show growth in percent proficient over time as the overall district percentage proficient increases.
  3. Physical science is excluded because most students do not take that exam.