Gender, economic gaps seen in school scores
By Josh O’Gorman
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | February 07,2014
BARRE — Annual test results for students across the state show gender and financial gaps, as some schools prepare to undergo a new form of assessment.
Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe visited Barre City Elementary and Middle School on Thursday to unveil the latest — and last — test results from the New England Common Assessment Program, also known as NECAP.
Since 2005, Vermont students in grades 3 through 11 — as well as students in Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island — have taken the annual test, which measures students’ skills across a number of subjects, including reading and writing. Test results are combined to give a measurement for each school, and for students across the state.
Overall, 71 percent of students scored proficient or better in reading, while 67 percent of students were considered proficient or better in math.
The NECAP results show a gap between students from different economic backgrounds, determined by students who receive free lunch versus those who do not. The disparity is striking, with students who receive free lunch scoring 14 points lower in reading, and 25 points lower in math.
When looking solely at gender, girls across the state scored 12 points higher in reading than boys, while the math scores were nearly equal. When combining gender and household income, the gap is even wider, with girls who do not receive free lunch scoring 36 points higher in reading than boys who receive free lunch. By that same measurement, girls scored 28 points higher in math than boys.
“No matter where we look, we see this persistent challenge in getting students from low-income backgrounds to reach the same levels of achievement as students from higher-income backgrounds,” Holcombe said. “Overall, we’re not really closing that gap and it’s going to continue to be a challenge for educators as we move forward.”
One way to close that gap is to provide universal pre-K education, Holcombe said. And while she declined to speculate on the gender gap, she did offer a warning of what this gap will mean for young men entering the workforce.
“When we think about which jobs are disappearing the fastest, they are the well-paying jobs for people of low skills that, typically, boys used to take,” Holcombe said.
Barre City elementary pupils are among students from 27 schools that did not take the NECAP in the fall. In the spring, they will take a new test, called the SBAC or Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test, which will be used by 25 states across the country, as well as all of Vermont starting next year.
Other locations that will take the SBAC this spring include schools in Hartland, Proctor, Windsor and Woodstock.
Unlike the pencil-and-paper NECAP, the SBAC will be administered on computer. Recognizing that few schools have enough computers for every student to take the test at the same time, the Agency of Education has scheduled the test to be taken over the course of four months.
Barre City Elementary students have been taking practice SBAC tests, including sixth-grader Julian Lopez, 12.
“The SBAC questions are a lot more detailed,” Lopez, when asked to compare SBAC to NECAP. “You have to take a lot more time. It’s a little more challenging.”