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School Notes: Economics Drives Education Gap

In Twin States, Poorer Students Gain on Tests, but Still Lag Behind

The National Assessment of Educational Progress came out at the end of last week, and Vermont and New Hampshire were among the top achievers on biennial tests, commonly know as “the nation’s report card.”

Results for fourth- and eighth-graders who took tests last winter in reading and math put the Twin States among the top five states, and miles ahead of the national averages. And state scores on the tests have shown significant progress over the past decade.

But one deficit that is now the focus of education reform efforts has remained stubbornly resistant to change: Children in poverty reach proficiency in reading and math in far smaller numbers than their classmates who are better off.

“We do well compared to the nation” in educating students in poverty, as well as students with learning disabilities and those who are English language learners, two other groups whose results are broken out in test reports, said Tim Eccleston, NAEP coordinator at the New Hampshire Department of Education. “We still compare well, but there’s definitely a larger separation” between students who fall into those categories and those who don’t.

NAEP scores for students in poverty have climbed at about the same rate as students who are better off, but the gap between the two groups remains roughly the same. In 2003, for example, 24 percent of New Hampshire fourth-graders who received free or reduced-price lunch tested at proficient or better, while 48 percent of those who didn’t qualify tested at that level. In the scores reported last week, the gap was slightly wider: 38 percent (best in the nation) to 67 percent, despite significant improvement.

The gap in learning, Eccleston said, is something children carry with them into the classroom. Some children arrive at kindergarten from homes filled with books or after spending time in a high-quality child care program, while others haven’t been read to or stimulated at all, he said.

“The children who are most prepared take off” once they get to school, said Eccleston, who has been in his current post for three years.

Early childhood education has been a prime focus in the effort to reduce the achievement gap. New Hampshire has been expanding full-day kindergarten programs, and Vermont has made full-day kindergarten nearly universal. Vermont is also moving ahead to expand access to preschool for 3- and 4-year-old children, an effort that has yet to begin in the Granite State. Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said he plans to push for a universal preschool bill when the state Legislature returns to Montpelier in January.

“When you look at pre-K programs and how much they’ve helped, the studies show that that’s probably where the greatest impact occurs,” Eccleston said.

But, as in Vermont, new policy proposals have to come from lawmakers. “Everything starts with the Legislature,” Eccleston said.

While New Hampshire released its NAEP scores for the fourth and eighth grades last week, in conjunction with the national release, Vermont did not. Unlike the New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP tests that students take annually, the NAEP is given every other year to a sampling of students and is meant to assess states rather than individual schools. New Hampshire’s Department of Education has posted a trove of information about the test results, information that’s available at www.education.nh.gov/instruction/assessment/naep/index.htm.

∎ In addition to the NAEP results, New Hampshire officials also released results of a study by the National Center for Education Statistics that shows the Twin States comparing favorably to some of the top nations in the world in math and science.

The study links NAEP scores to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. In math, Vermont and New Hampshire eighth-graders were among the top six countries, while in science they were in the top four. Vermont, it’s worth noting, fared better than New Hampshire in both measures.

School Honors

A handful of New Hampshire schools were honored by the state Department of Education recently. Lyme Elementary School, one of only a few public schools in the Twin States to have gained enrollment over the past decade, was one of only six schools named to the Commissioner’s Circle of Excellence.

Hanover’s Bernice A. Ray Elementary School was named a National Blue Ribbon School, a distinction meant to identify and spread knowledge of exemplary leadership and teaching.

And Cornish Elementary School was one of eight New Hampshire schools honored for showing the greatest gains in reading and math on the past three years of New England Common Assessment Program results.

Student News

Jacob W. Siegel II, a graduate of Hanover High School, has been elected to serve as a representative for the class of 2017 in the student assembly at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y.

The Speck in My Eye, a play written by Hanover native Sarah Croitoru, was performed during The Premiere Series New Play Festival last month at Keene State College. Croitoru is a junior women’s and gender studies, social science, and secondary education major at Keene State, where she is in the Honors Program and on the Dean’s List.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com, or 603-727-3219.