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Vt. ranked top for low-income student achievement

By Lisa Rathke
Associated Press Writer / September 2, 2010

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MONTPELIER, Vt.—Vermont is tops in the country for the achievements of low-income students but ranks at the bottom of the list for education reform, according to a national group that promotes limited government.

The Report Card on American Education by the American Legislative Exchange Council ranked the educational performance of the states and District of Columbia based on scores of low-income 4th- and 8th-graders on National Assessment of Educational Progress reading and math tests in 2003 and 2009.

Vermont students improved in all tests -- jumping 10 points in 8th-grade math -- but none of the scores reached the proficient level. South Carolina had the lowest ranking for poor students, followed by West Virginia.

Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca said the test scores for Vermont's 4th and 8th graders and for low-income students prove that educators are doing the right thing.

"That really validates the fact that teachers in Vermont are really, and schools, are focusing on some of the needs of all students and taking responsibility for the learning of all kids and making sure that, whether they're kids whose parents are well off or kids whose parents are living in poverty, that they're all having high expectations for all kids," he said.

He took exception to the D grade on education reform given to Vermont and three other states -- North Dakota, Rhode Island and Tennessee. Florida got the top mark, B plus.

The authors' report card, first reported by the Rutland Herald, judged the states' academic standards, change in proficiency standards, private school choice, charter school law, online learning policies and programs, home-schooling regulations and removing ineffective teachers.

About 90 Vermont communities have public school choice, and charter schools aren't needed in Vermont because the state has small schools with personalized learning, Vilaseca said.

"Typically charter schools are in large urban areas and what charter schools are trying to accomplish is what we have in Vermont as part of our normal school population," he said.

Overall, the report found that per student spending in American public schools has more than doubled since 1970 from an average of $4,060 to more than $10,000, while high school graduate rates have dropped slightly from 73.7 percent to 73.4 percent and reading test scores have remained flat.

Vilaseca said the report also gave Vermont a poor grade for its curriculum and assessment requirements for parents who want to home-school.

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