How Much Does Housing Assistance Affect Student Test Scores?

How Much Does Housing Assistance Affect Student Test Scores?
Deven Carlson, Hannah Miller, Robert Haveman, Sohyun Kang, Alex Schmidt, and Barbara Wolfe
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Housing assistance can improve housing stability and quality for recipients, and for children, it has the potential to shape outcomes beyond the home, including readiness to learn. In this study, researchers explored how receiving housing assistance–specifically through vouchers or public housing—affects standardized test scores in Wisconsin. The article notes that around one-quarter of the state’s vouchers and public housing are distributed in Milwaukee, and three-quarters are distributed in the state’s smaller cities, suburbs, and rural areas. The state has more school districts than housing authorities, which may enable school district choice for families with vouchers.

The researchers analyzed the statewide Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination math and reading test scores of 3rd through 8th grade students and 10th grade students between 2005 and 2012. They compared scores of three groups of students: the housing assistance group, those whose families newly received housing assistance in 2006–07 (3,077); the future housing assistance group, those whose families began receiving housing assistance in 2010–11 (2,110); and the broader comparison group, those whose families did not receive housing assistance but did receive a means-tested support such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or Medicaid and whose income was less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level (475,714). The researchers also analyzed these comparisons based on students’ gender and race and looked at differences between the types of housing assistance families received.

This study finds little difference in the academic achievement of students whose families received housing assistance with both comparison groups. Additional comparisons between gender and race and housing assistance type find slightly greater impacts.

Key findings

  • Students whose families received housing assistance displayed small gains in math scores two years after receiving housing assistance compared with future recipients (0.08 standard deviations).
  • For boys receiving housing assistance, this gain in math scores was slightly greater in magnitude and significance (0.14 standard deviations).  
  • Black students receiving housing assistance experienced increased math scores two and three years after receiving assistance compared with both future recipients and the broader comparison group (0.16 standard deviations).
  • When disaggregating housing assistance types, public housing was associated with a decline in math test scores, and voucher receipt was significantly associated with an increase math test scores.
  • There was no evidence of a relationship between housing assistance and reading scores.

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