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School Study Shows High Poverty, Low Attendance Affect Test Scores

By Ben Fractenberg | September 14, 2011 7:45pm | Updated on September 14, 2011 8:09pm
A Independent Budget Office study links poverty and absenteeism to low test scores among public school students.
A Independent Budget Office study links poverty and absenteeism to low test scores among public school students.
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MANHATTAN — New York City public school students' test scores are affected by their economic situation and attendance record, a study by the city's Independent Budget Office revealed.

The news came as 2010 census figures showed that poverty in New York State and the country was on the rise.

Students in grades three through eight living in low-income families — defined as being eligible for free school lunch — scored much lower on English Language Arts and math proficiency tests than those students not eligible for subsidized meals, according to the study.

Students defined as low income were 38 percent proficient in ELA and 51 percent proficient in math, while their wealthier counterparts were 69 percent proficient in ELA and 77 percent proficient in math, the study found.

And students who are absent five days or fewer passed proficiency tests at a rate double of those who miss school 21 days or more.

“We are pleased to make these new resources available to parents, policymakers and other New Yorkers concerned about the city’s schools,” said IBO director Ronnie Lowenstein, in a statement.

"The report provides a statistical description of the students who attend the city’s public schools, the fiscal resources available to support the schools, the principal and teachers who staff the schools, and selected indicators of school performance for key subgroups of students."

More than two-thirds of the students in the study come from families earning an income less than 130 percent of the national poverty level, the study said. In 2010, that was $22,314 for a family of four.

With a large number of students battling poverty, spending by the city has grown by only 2 percent over the past three years, after accounting for inflation and funds going to private special education and charter schools, the study said.

The report is the first study of its kind from the IBO after mayoral control over the public school system was renewed in 2009. The renewal requires the budget office to “enhance official and public understanding” of the school system.