ITHACA, NY – A report from The New York Times compiled data on the performance of third through eighth grade students in order to investigate how race and poverty impact educational success. Here’s how Tompkins schools stacked up.

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The graph below presents three data points. The size of each dot represents how many students are in a district.

A school’s position on the horizontal axis represents how wealthy the school district is, with richer districts toward the right side.

The vertical axis indicates how far above or below the average the students included in the study are, in terms of academics. This is represented by grade levels, as in, a student in fifth grade in a high performing school might be learning at a sixth or seventh grade level, while a fifth-grade student at low-performing school might be learning at a fourth or even third grade level.

The disheartening claim made in the original piece is that students in the richest districts are as much as four grade levels higher than their poorer peers.

Horizontal axis: Wealth, poorer to richer (left to right). Vertical axis: academic performance measured in grade levels above or below the average. (Source: The Upshot / New York Times)

The original piece also includes data about the median incomes and racial demographics of each district. Check the original article for a more interactive take on the map.

Here are a few quick points of interest from this data:

  • Ithaca and Lansing are notably wealthier than the other districts. Predictably, they are also the best performing districts in the county.
  • Dryden is the wealthiest of the rest, but its performance is equal to Newfield, the poorest district in the region.
  • Trumansburg is the only district that has above average performance amongst the less wealthy Tompkins’ school districts.
  • Groton is a bit wealthier than Newfield, but is performing a fair amount worse.
  • Dryden, Groton and to a lesser extent, Lansing, appear to be performing relatively poorly compared to schools in similar economic situations nationwide.
  • The richest district, Lansing ($98,000), has a median income exactly double that of the poorest district, Newfield ($49,000).
  • The data implies that students at the best performing school, Lansing, are on average performing at two grade levels above students in the lowest, Groton.

Does race play a role?

Race seems to have relatively little impact on the overall results in Tompkins, perhaps because most of the schools are 89 percent white or higher. Ithaca is by far the most diverse district district in Tompkins with 68 percent white, 15 percent Asian, 12 percent black and 5 percent Hispanic students.

However, one of the major points of the original New York Times piece is that even among higher performing schools, there is a huge gap between the performance of white students and minority students — that gap itself usually being linked to poverty as well. Does this hold true in Ithaca?

According to 2013-2014 district report card from the New York State Department of Education, it seems to follow that pattern. Consider the following statistics:

The four-year graduation rate for white students in ICSD is 84 percent compared 72 for economically disadvantaged students and 71 percent for black students. The five-year graduation rate is 85 percent for white students, 72 for the economically disadvantaged and 63 percent for black students.

Another metric is the Performance Index (PI), which is an abstracted measure of performance.

Measuring the performance in English Language Arts of third through eighth graders at ICSD, white students had a PI of 129, while economically disadvantaged students had a PI of 70 and black students came in at 66. For math, white students had a PI of 129, economically disadvantaged students had a PI of 73 and black students a 64.

Hispanic students tended to perform somewhere between white and black students, while Asian students tended to outperform all other students on all metrics, although their 4-year graduation rate was lower at 76 percent.

It’s clear there’s still a discrepancy, with black students and underprivileged students — two groups that likely have a substantial overlap — performing substantially worse than their peers.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.