Report: Social Class—Not Smarts—Is A Better Predictor of Academic Success

Inequities in opportunity begin far before college, according to a recent report.

In fact, the social class a child is born into is a better predictor than academic test scores when it comes to calculating future earning power, research from Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce shows.

The report, produced in conjunction with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, found that a low-scoring kindergarten student from a family in the highest quartile of socioeconomic status (SES) has a 71 percent chance of being above-median SES at age 25. Meanwhile, a child from a low-SES family with high test scores has only a 31 percent chance of reaching above-median SES by young adulthood.

“To succeed in America, it’s better to be born rich than smart,” Anthony P. Carnevale, lead author of the report, said in a press release.

In fact, the highest performing poor students have less chance of graduating from college than the poorest performing rich students, data show. And low-income students—particularly students of color—are more likely to stumble in their academic journeys than their peers.  Among children who show similar academic potential in kindergarten, the test scores of low-income students are more likely to decline and stay low during elementary, middle, and high school than the test scores of their peers from middle- and upper-income families.

The report urges policymakers to narrow opportunity gaps by providing academic support early and often, improving and expanding high school counseling, and offering career education and work experience opportunities to students.

“With smart policy changes, education can mitigate the effects of inequality,” said Megan L. Fasules, who co-authored the report.

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