Students In Montgomery Defy ‘Achievement Gap’

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(Host) Poor children consistently do worse in school than their peers.

That was highlighted last week when the Department of Education released NECAP assessment results for Vermont schools.

But the state says that can change, and it pointed to one school that’s overcome the trend.

VPR’s Patti Daniels reports.

(Daniels) It’s called "the achievement gap" and most Vermont schools see evidence of it: students who received free or reduced price lunch come from families in poverty, and those children consistently have lower tests scores.

But the exception is Montgomery Elementary School in Franklin County.

(O’Brien) "I kept saying:‘I want 90 percent achievement in math, 90 percent in reading and 90 percent in writing.’" 

(Daniels) Principal Beth O’Brien and her staff have been working on the closing the achievement gap for 10 years.  In this year’s NECAP test, 95 percent of their students were proficient in math, and 91 percent were proficient in reading. And that’s despite the fact that more than half of Montgomery’s K-thru-8 students live in poverty. O’Brien explains how poverty affects school performance.

(O’Brien) "Sometimes when you have people who live in poverty, the parents haven’t had a good experience in school themselves. So it’s a generational thing. So we really try to go out of our way to make everybody feel welcome in the buildings, to let them know that everybody can do it."

(Daniels) O’Brien doesn’t think teachers explicitly tell some kids they can’t do as well in school, but the kids pick up the message anyway.

(O’Brien) "So a teacher may be thinking, ‘I’m not sure if this kid knows the answer, and I don’t want to put him on the spot,’ so maybe she’ll give him less time to answer, or doesn’t ask him the question. So I don’t think anyone would intentionally say to a kid, ‘I don’t think you can do it’, but we do send that message to kids."

(Daniels) As for Montgomery Elementary’s goal of reaching 90 percent proficiency in the NECAP writing, test? Eighty-four percent of Montgomery fifth-graders scored proficient in writing. O’Brien says success breeds success and their community is determined to reach that goal.

For VPR News, I’m Patti Daniels.


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