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February 3, 2014

Educators discuss struggles of impoverished students

PLATTSBURGH — To Dr. Mark Beatham, judging school quality based solely on student academic performance is failing to consider something critical — poverty versus wealth.

This is precisely the case with Buffalo Business First’s 2013 academic rankings of 20 public schools in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties, the associate professor of teacher education at SUNY Plattsburgh noted.

The list, which the regional business journal released last October, was generated based on data from the State Education Department, including districts’ standardized-test results and graduation rates.

It placed Chazy Central Rural and Lake Placid Central schools in the first and second spots and Moriah and Salmon River central schools in the 19th and 20th spots, respectively.

But what that ranking didn’t point out is that CCRS and LPCS had poverty rates of 20 and 22 percent, while the Moriah and Salmon River schools had poverty rates of 64 and 68 percent, respectively, Beatham said.

WHAT THEY DEAL WITH

The poverty rates reflect the average percentage of students in a district who, according to the Education Department, were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch from 2010 to 2012.

“In the absence of that information, it just looks like the schools that are at the top are doing the best job and the schools at the bottom are doing the worst job, but it doesn’t in any way indicate what they have to deal with,” Beatham said.

The associate professor didn’t want to detract from the success of the higher-ranking schools, which, he noted, are still far less affluent than some suburban schools in other parts of the state, “but it’s so much easier when you don’t have to deal with all the effects of poverty.”

For example, he continued, students of low economic status may be facing hunger, lack of medical care or stress over how bills will be paid, which “make it that much more difficult for a kid to pay attention in school.”

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