AUGUSTA — Researchers at the University of Southern Maine found that Maine schools with higher poverty levels have lower student performance, and the cumulative effect makes the problem even worse in high school, according to a study presented to lawmakers on the Legislature’s Education Committee on Thursday.
“There is a connection,” said lead researcher David Silvernail, the director of USM’s Center for Education Policy, Applied Research and Evaluation. The committee requested the study after the LePage adminstration launched a report card-style ranking system for Maine public schools. Critics said the report cards didn’t account for the impact of poverty levels on student performance.
“(Poverty) doesn’t explain everything, but it’s the single best predictor,” Silvernail told lawmakers. He said other factors affecting performance include the type of school and teacher education.
Silvernail said their analysis of statewide student data also found that high poverty levels at a school, measured by the number of students receiving free and reduced lunch, can impact even students who are not receiving free and reduced lunch. Students who aren’t in poverty but who attend higher poverty schools don’t perform as well as their peers at more affluent schools, he said.
Critics noted that the new A-to-F school grading system shows schools in wealthier communities generally have higher grades while those in poorer communities have more D’s and F’s.
Elementary schools that got F grades have an average of 67 percent of their students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch. At schools that got A’s, the average is 25 percent.
In general, the grades are based on standardized test scores in math and English, students’ growth and progress, and the performance and growth of the bottom 25 percent of students. For high schools, graduation rates are another factor.
“It supports what we’ve said all along,” Maine Education Association President Lois Kilby-Chesley said Thursday .
Rep. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, noted that the report didn’t find, however, that per-pupil spending was a strong indicator of test scores.
“That suggests that spending more money on per-pupil (expenditures) won’t solve the problem,” said Pouliot, who said the poverty correlation didn’t surprise him. “There’s no silver bullets to solve these problems.”
Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at: