When Renters Move, What Factors Affect Student Test Scores?

When Renters Move, What Factors Affect Student Test Scores?
Sarah A. Cordes, Amy Ellen Schwartz, Leanna Stiefel
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Evidence shows that moving homes can affect a child’s academic performance, but the circumstances of the move can determine whether it benefits or disadvantages the student. Some students move suddenly because of affordability concerns, and others move to attend a better-fit school. As such, the effect of residential mobility on student outcomes can be hard to quantify. In this study, researchers explore the different circumstances that motivate students’ moves and assess the effects on academic performance.

The authors track three cohorts of students in New York City public elementary and middle schools from third to eighth grade. They use administrative data from the NYC Department of Education for academic years 2004–05 to 2011–12, NYC Department of Finance data on building type and characteristics, and data from the New York University Furman Center for Real Estate and Policy on building sales and prices. Their sample size of 92,947 students includes students who were continuously enrolled in the NYC public school system and lived in rental units throughout the study period. Eighty-five percent of public school students live in rental housing, and 83 percent of students in rental housing are economically disadvantaged.

In their analysis, the researchers measure the overall effects of a move on student academic outcomes based on state math and reading exam scores, whether these effects last beyond a year, whether the effects of a short-distance move (less than a mile) differ from those of a long-distance move (over a mile), and how school mobility plays a part. They find that certain circumstances—such as a long-distance move accompanied by a school move—have more damaging effects than others.  

Key findings

  • Moving had no effect on students’ reading performance during the year of the move, but it had a positive effect in following years. Students experienced a negative effect on math scores in both the short term and the long term.
  • Distance of a move matters. Compared with students who made short-distance moves of less than a mile, long-distance movers who moved more than a mile performed worse in both subjects during the year of the move.
  • School mobility also plays a part. Students who moved a short distance and also changed schools experienced negative effects in reading and math, compared with students who made a long-distance move without switching schools.
  • Following a long-distance move, students’ academic performance relative to their peers’ dropped, and for those who also switched schools, this effect lasted beyond the first year.  
  • Long-distance movers moved to neighborhoods with lower poverty rates, higher median incomes, and higher shares of adults with more educational attainment than a high school diploma, and students who moved short distances moved to neighborhoods with slightly lower median household incomes.
  • Students who moved both short and long distances lost social capital, which the authors defined as moving to neighborhoods where a smaller share of peers from third grade lived nearby.

Policy Implications

  • Because residential moves accompanied by school moves are particularly harmful to performance, school districts should allow students to complete the academic year in their current school following a residential move.
  • Where such policies exist, school administrators and counselors can encourage and support parents in their decision to keep their student in the same school through the end of the school year.
  • School districts should provide transportation assistance, in the form of school buses or public transit passes, so students may continue to attend their premove school.
  • Schools should focus resources on students making combined residential and school moves, such as targeted instruction or information and resources for families to connect to their new neighborhood and school communities.

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