Free and reduced-price meal (FRM) data are used ubiquitously to proxy for student disadvantage in education research and policy applications. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP)—a recently-implemented, federally-administered program—allows schools serving low-income populations to identify all students as FRM-eligible regardless of individual circumstances. The substantive implications of this policy aside, we study its effect on FRM eligibility as a proxy for student disadvantage, and relatedly, we examine the viability of direct certification (DC) status as an alternative disadvantage measure. While there is some informational degradation in FRM data caused by the CEP, primarily with respect to capturing school-level disadvantage, we show that the impact of the CEP is generally modest. In the post-CEP era, DC and FRM data are similarly informative. Using both measures together can improve the identification of disadvantaged students in administrative data, but only marginally.
Citation: Cory Koedel, Eric Parsons (2019). Using Free Meal and Direct Certification Data to Proxy for Student Disadvantage in the Era of the Community Eligibility Provision. CALDER Working Paper No. 214-0119-1