Report sparks concern over low icome student performance

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(Host) According to a new report, more Vermont schools are meeting the student assessment standards of the federal “No Child Left Behind” law.

But the report also shows that there are serious concerns about the academic performance of students in low income families.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The new report is a combination of good news and bad news for education in Vermont.

Here’s the good news. Last year 74 schools, or 27% of all schools in the state, failed to meet the student assessment standards of the No Child Left Behind law.

This year, the number of schools in this category dropped to 37 or roughly 13 % of all schools in Vermont.

The results are based on annual student assessments in grades 2 through 12.

Education commissioner Richard Cate says he’s pleased that local educators are working to correct problems from previous years:

(Cate) “As percentages go for schools not making adequate yearly progress, our numbers are relatively low compared to many other states. Sometimes schools are missing the mark by a very narrow margin. And so just a little bit of additional effort and working with kids gets them to a place where they do make the target.”

(Kinzel) Here’s the bad news. Of the schools that failed to meet the standards this year, half of them failed because many students from low income families had very low test scores. These are students who’ve been identified as being eligible for the school lunch program.

Cate says it’s a problem that shows up in the early grades and becomes more pronounced in later years.

(Cate) “There are just so many other factors that are outside the responsibility and the ability of the schools to change. Schools can’t redo the family structure. They can’t redo the families economic circumstances. So they try to mitigate those factors as much as they can with real solid instruction and good research. But it is very hard to overcome some of those things. It’s something that I’m sure we’ll be working on for a very long time.”

(Kinzel) Cate thinks a wider availability of pre-kindergarten programs is one way to deal with this situation. The Vermont House earlier this week passed legislation encouraging local communities to offer these programs.

(Cate) “It’s obviously a local decision but a lot of the districts have done it and I think children are advantaged by it. It doesn’t solve all the problems but it certainly helps to offset the gap that they have in terms of their readiness for kindergarten.”

(Kinzel) The pre-kindergarten legislation is now being reviewed by the Senate Education committee.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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