There isn’t one factor alone that determines how a child will perform in school, but many experts agree there is a correlation between poverty and school performance.

The Frontier gathered 2014 Oklahoma Department of Education test score data from school districts across Oklahoma and calculated each county’s median ACT score.

In school districts where less than 10 students took the ACT, a college assessment exam, the Oklahoma DOE redacted testing scores to protect students’ privacy.

We also collected 2014 data from the U.S. Census Bureau on the percentage of people with incomes below the poverty line for each county in Oklahoma.

In 2014, 16.6 percent of Oklahomans had incomes below the poverty line, which was $23,834 for a family of four.

In counties with high percentages of people living below the poverty line, not all schools had lower test scores, and vice versa. However, there is correlation in many of these counties.(Story continues after map)

In Adair and Choctaw counties, the two counties with the highest poverty rates, ACT scores are among the lowest in Oklahoma.

The median ACT score in Adair, where 27.3 percent of people live in poverty, was 18. In Choctaw, where 27.7 percent of people live under the poverty line, the median score was 17.95.

Kingfisher County, where the median ACT score was 20.2, had the lowest poverty rate with 6.9 percent.

However, the highest median ACT score of 22 was in Custer County, where 16.6 percent of people lived in impoverished homes.


Children living in poverty often have less opportunity before they enter the classroom, which could lead to more challenges in school, said Debra Andersen, executive director of Smart Start Oklahoma.

Children who live in impoverished households might have adverse experiences, Andersen said. A study from 2014 examines how adverse childhood experiences correlate with poor outcomes throughout school and even into adulthood.

Adverse experiences include parental divorce, sexual abuse and incarceration of a parent or guardian.

Typically, families in poverty experience more of these situations, which makes it more difficult from them to have a nurturing environment, Andersen said.

“The other factor is that kids need to be born healthy,” she said.

Families that live in poverty might have less access to quality healthcare during the prenatal period, which can affect a child’s development, Andersen said.

“In the big picture, when kids don’t have the same opportunities before they even enter pre-K, they’re starting out behind in pre-K, and that starts that trajectory of challenges throughout their school careers,” Andersen said.