Study: Small Indiana districts lagging behind on test scores

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — A study of Indiana schools found that size may have an impact on academic performance.

More than half of Indiana districts can’t operate efficiently because they’re too small, Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research said.

The study found that districts with less than 2,000 students performed worse on tests than larger districts. Researchers said the gap could be because smaller districts can’t afford to use as many resources.

The study also found that smaller districts are less likely to offer calculus, physics and Advanced Placement courses.

“We are troubled that the worst outcomes tend to be in these STEM-related fields,” said Michael Hicks, director of the Ball State research center. “These affect the enrollment of students and their readiness for post-secondary education, which is important to Indiana as a whole.”

More than 150 of the state’s nearly 290 districts had less than 2,000 students in 2014. Research indicates that almost 95 percent of those districts share a border with another small district. The study recommends combining them.

“We believe state and local action is needed to change this reality going forward,” said Kevin Brinegar, Indiana Chamber president. “This is simply not fair to these students who happen to live in small school districts.”

Researchers also recommend possible financial incentives to merge.

But the study’s recommendation might not be taking into account how school district mergers could affect students, such as longer bus rides for kids in rural areas, said Chris Lagoni, executive director of the Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association.

“We are in favor of local control,” Lagoni said. “We like the idea of funding to help support districts, if they want to do this.”

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