Proficiency levels in schools often correlate with the poverty levels of schools. However, in 2018 three schools in Utah beat the state average proficiency rate on all three of Utah's end of year summative English language arts, mathematics, and science exams. These high scores provide evidence that schools are not necessarily limited by poverty in helping students succeed academically. By examining the schools that beat the state average on at least one exam, this study describes the conditions that were in play, which contributed to their students' academic achievement. A description is given of the conditions in the schools that are believed to produce high achievement. These conditions existed and these actions were taken to help a school with a high-poverty population break the perceived bond of poverty and low academic results to produce uncommonly high student achievement. This study identified the schools in Utah with a high poverty rate (70% or above) and also have student academic proficiency rates higher than the state average on at least one of the state assessments. The data indicates there are 80 schools with a high poverty rate. While only three of those schools had student academic proficiency rates on all three tests that were above average for the state of Utah, eight schools are included in the study as they had student academic proficiency rates above the state average on at least one test. This study reveals that these schools focus attention on school structures, positive school culture, leadership of the principal and his willingness to share leadership with teachers, improving instruction, and efficacious parent engagement. These things are the levers that helped move academic success forward in these schools, even though they are schools with a high rate of students experiencing poverty.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Educational Leadership and Foundations



Date Submitted


Document Type





poverty, leadership, instruction, school culture, structures, family engagement, principal capacity, teacher capacity



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Education Commons