The forgotten 20 percent: Achievement and growth in rural schools across the nation

NWEA recently released new research using data from over 2,300 rural schools across the US providing unique insight into math and reading achievement of students in rural schools. Key findings and recommendations from the report appear below: 


• Kindergarten math and reading achievement is slightly higher in rural than non-rural schools, but by third grade, this advantage fades, and non-rural students increasingly outperform rural students from grades 3 to 8. 

• This shift is likely driven by significantly larger learning loss for rural students during summers, not within school-year growth patterns. 

• Rural schools farther from urbanized areas had higher summer learning loss and lower achievement than schools closer to urban centers. 

• Achievement gaps are larger in non-rural schools than in rural schools.


Communicate the importance of, and work to expand access to, summer learning opportunities for rural schools and students. This research showed, for the first time, that most of the eventual gap between rural and non-rural students shown in middle school may be attributed to larger declines in achievement during summer breaks for rural students. So, summers could be an important time for interventions to help rural students. 

Consider remoteness and other variation across rural schools in policy decisions. Results showed that Rural-Distant schools, which are farther from urbanized areas than Rural-Fringe schools, had the highest summer learning loss rates among all rural schools. 

Rural schools should not be forgotten in research and policy. Results underscore the importance of tracking student progress in rural schools to help policymakers make decisions about resource allocation. 

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