By LISA RATHKE
MONTPELIER -- Vermont students improved slightly in math in statewide tests but education officials say the results show wide gaps among students based on household income and gender.
"The girls and young women are clearly outperforming the boys across the board. And it's true in every single segment of the exams," Education Commissioner Richard Cate said Wednesday as he released the results of 10th-grade math and reading tests and reading assessments of second graders.
Cate released the state data on the same day the results of national math and reading tests of eighth and fourth-graders were released. Vermont performed among the top five states on the national tests, Cate said.
In the state tests of 10th graders, one of the greatest disparities was that 54 percent of the 10th-grade girls met or exceeded the standard in writing effectiveness compared to just 31 percent of boys.
When the numbers are broken down by who is eligible for free or reduced priced lunch based on their household incomes, only 24 percent of low-income students met or exceeded the standard, compared to 46 percent of their peers.
"The poverty gap certainly continues and that is a major focus for us," Cate said.
In reading analysis and interpretation, the percentage of low-income students who met or passed the standard was 25 percent compared to 50 percent of their peers.
And both the gender and economic gaps occur at a young age. In 2005, 73 percent of low-income second graders reached or exceeded the reading standard while 88 percent of other students did. Girls also did better than boys. Eighty-six percent of girls reached or passed the reading level compared to 80 percent of boys.
"So you've got poverty gaps and you've got gender gaps. So, the worst case scenario is to be a boy in poverty," Cate said.
Cate attributed the gender gap to cultural pressures and distractions for boys and educational efforts to better reach girls over the last 30 years.
"My sense is there are more things that boys feel they are expected to be good at, I don't care if it's sports or video games," Cate said. "My sense is that amongst boys quite often some of these things become higher priorities, whereas the girls have said 'we're going to get to college one way or another' and that's important."
Overall the results of the New Science Reference Exam given last spring show that 10th graders improved in areas of reading as well as in math concepts and problem solving.
The percentage of students who met or exceeded the standard in math problem-solving rose from 40 percent to 47 percent. But the rate of students who achieved or exceeded the standard for writing effectiveness dropped from 50 percent last year to 42 percent this year.
The tests are being replaced by the New England Common Assessment given to third through eighth graders this fall.
The tests are just one indicator of students' learning, Cate said.
"These are indicators to tell us we need to do a lot more work," he said.