Student Mobility in Georgia: Preliminary Results

December 18, 2013

By Pascael Beaudette

Each school year, thousands of Georgia students transfer schools for reasons other than grade promotion.  Student mobility not only affects the individual student but also the teachers and students in his/her classes.  This report utilizes data from the new statewide longitudinal data system, GA•AWARDS, to assess mobility patterns in Georgia public schools during the 2012-13 academic year.   This education update presents preliminary results.  The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) will issue a full report in spring 2014.

Key Findings
  • 10.3% of Georgia students were mobile during the 2012-13 academic year.
  • A majority of mobile students transfer to another public school within Georgia.
  • Black students comprise 37.1% of Georgia’s student population but account for 47.9% of the mobile students. White students comprise 43.2% of all students, but only 32.7% of mobile students are white.
  • Other race/ethnicity subgroups have roughly the same proportion of mobile students as students in the state.
  • Mobile students are more likely to be:
    • Qualified for Free and Reduced-Price Lunch (FRL)
      • 12.7% of FRL students are mobile, compared to 7.1% of non-FRL students.
    • English Language Learners (ELL)
      • 11.4% of ELL students are mobile, compared to 10.2% of non-ELL students.
    • Students with Disabilities (SWD)
      • 12.6% of SWD are mobile, compared to 10.0% of non-SWD students.
Student Mobility

Transferring schools disrupts student learning.  For the individual student, transferring schools places the student into a new environment with different teachers, classmates, and curricula.  Other studies of mobility show that mobile students tend to underperform academically; however, mobile students also tend to belong to subgroups, such as low income students, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities, that also tend to underperform.[1]  Thus, the effect of mobility on student achievement is often unclear.

For teachers and classmates, student mobility disrupts the classroom environment.  Teachers must determine how best to serve new incoming students and manage the effects of the changing classroom composition.  Stable students must deal with the classroom disruption as mobile students enter and exit, and they experience the slowed pace of instruction as new students are incorporated into the class.  Student mobility also imposes administrative costs, as schools must transfer or obtain student records.

Although student mobility affects students, teachers, and schools, very little is known about student mobility in Georgia.  Using data from GA•AWARDS, this report provides basic descriptive statistics about the frequency of student mobility and which students are likely to be mobile.

Student Mobility in Georgia

To count as “mobile” for the purposes of this analysis, students must enter or leave a school  between October 2, 2012 and May 1, 2013.  October 2 is the Georgia Department of Education’s fall enrollment count date, and May 1 represents a consistent date that is prior to the end of the school year in all Georgia districts. Students who withdraw and reenter the same school within seven days are not counted as mobile.

Of the 1.7 million public school students in the dataset, approximately 176,000 students, or 10.3%, were mobile during 2012-13 school year.  Among mobile students, 59% transferred to another public school within Georgia.  The top six reasons for transferring out of a Georgia public school are listed in the table below.

Mobility by Race

Native American and black students are the most mobile, with 13.6% of Native American students and 13.3% of black students moving at least once during the school year.[2]  White and Asian students are the least mobile, with 7.8% and 8.6% in those groups, respectively, transferring schools during 2012-13. 

These patterns hold when comparing the racial breakdown in the total population to that in the mobile population.[3]  Black students comprise 37.1% of the student population but account for 47.9% of the mobile students.  Conversely, white students comprise 43.2% of all students, but only 32.7% of mobile students are white.

Mobility among Students Who Qualify for Free and Reduced-Price Lunch

Based on household size and income, 57.0% of Georgia students qualified for free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) in 2012-13.[4]  Students who qualify for FRL are significantly more likely to be mobile; 12.7% of FRL students moved during the year, compared to 7.1% of non-FRL students. [5]

This pattern generally holds when broken down by race.  With the exception of Hispanic students, FRL students are more likely to move than non-FRL students within each racial group.[6]  The difference between FRL and non-FRL students is particularly large among white students.  In the overall population, 36.2% of white students qualify for FRL, but FRL students account for 57.2% of the mobile white students.   

As a result, it appears that FRL status is at least partially driving racial differences in mobility, but regression analysis is needed to parse out the effects. GOSA’s full report this spring will include such analysis.
Other Student Characteristics and Mobility
  • Elementary and high school students are more mobile than middle school students.
    • 10.6% of elementary and 10.5% of high school students are mobile, compared to 9.6% of middle school students.
  • English Language Learners (ELL) are slightly more mobile than students who are not considered ELL (11.4% compared to 10.2%).
  • 12.6% of Students with Disabilities (SWD) are mobile, compared to 10.0% of students who are not identified as SWD.
Next Steps

In spring 2014, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement will publish a full report on student mobility in Georgia.  In addition to the types of information presented above, this report will include data on mobility at the school and district level and will use regression analysis to examine the relationship between mobility and student achievement.

 

[1] See, for example:

Community Research Partners.  2012.  “Student Nomads: Mobility in Ohio’s Schools.”  Research conducted for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Education Research & Data Center. 2010.  “A First Look at Student Mobility.”  State of Washington.

O’Donnell, Robert and Anna Gazos.  2010.  “Student Mobility in Massachusetts.”  Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

[2] If a student’s listed race changes during the year, the race listed last is used.

[3] The difference between the percent of the overall population and the percent of the mobile population is statistically significant for all groups, except for Native American students, as determined by one-sample test of proportions (p<0.5).

[4] If a student is identified as FRL, ELL, or SWD once during the year, he or she is considered a part of that subgroup for the purposes of this analysis.

[5] Differences between groups are statistically significant, as determined by Pearson’s Chi-Squared (p<.05).  The differences in mobility percentages by grade level, SWD status, and ELL status also statistically significant, as determined by Pearson’s Chi-Squared (p<.05).

[6] With the exception of Native American students, differences are statistically significant, as determined by one-sample test of proportions (p<.05).