This article is part of our Whole Picture of Public Education project, which uses state and national data to answer the question: what influences student learning? For more information, visit www.ReachingHigherNH.org/wholepic
What influences student learning in New Hampshire? For our youngest learners, it is economic security. Student outcomes were most strongly associated with family income: specifically, whether their families qualified for the federal Free and Reduced Price Lunch program.1
There are families navigating poverty in nearly every community in our state — and the number of students is growing. In 2017, one in four New Hampshire students were navigating poverty, which was a 40% increase over a decade.2
However, this does not mean that these students are not capable of scoring proficient on these assessments. There are family, school, and community-based interventions that can help remove barriers to learning and create environments where students can thrive. However, the state has cut resources to schools that serve these families over the past several years.
Examining the findings
We found that districts that served more students who were navigating poverty also had lower rates of proficiency in math and reading. The relationship was significant for Grades 4, 8, and 11, but it was strongest in fourth grade.
The graph below shows each district’s student proficiency rates for math and reading, and the percentage of students who live in the district who qualify for Free and Reduced Price Lunch. The first graph shows districts’ fourth grade proficiency rates, followed by eighth grade and eleventh grade.
Find your district below, using the search box in the upper right corner:
Learn more about how to use this interactive data visualization here.
When considering fourth grade students, their access to the outside world is based on their family and household. For example, in order for a fourth grade student to arrive at school on time, they likely need their parent/guardian/adult caretaker to get them ready for school, make sure they have eaten breakfast, ensure they have their backpack and materials, and drive them or get them to the bus stop. So it is unsurprising that we found a strong connection between elementary school students and their specific families.
State Resources for Schools
When considering the power of a family’s income, let’s examine how the state helps schools in supporting students who are navigating poverty. The formula that the state uses to fund its schools is relatively new: it has been in place since 2012.
Before 2012, the formula gave more resources to the state’s most vulnerable districts. The current formula provides schools with a set amount per student, with additional grants for students who qualify for the federal Free and Reduced Price Lunch program and/or other services. The result has been a decrease in state funding for the state’s most vulnerable communities, even before adjusting for inflation, as displayed in Table 1.
Table 1: Changes in State Funding Per Student, 2008-2017
This is the second part of our comprehensive analysis on student learning in New Hampshire, called The Whole Picture of Public Education. Check out the rest of the series:
- Part one: What influences student learning in New Hampshire?
- Part three: Harnessing the power of our communities for the benefit of our students
- Part four: How do our teachers, classrooms, and other factors influence student learning?
Check out our other resources and tools:
- A comprehensive report, which uses five stories of New Hampshire families to guide readers through the project’s core findings and encourages them to consider their real-life implications;
- Interactive data visualizations, which allow users to explore and ask questions of the data;
- Community and school district profiles, which help individuals build a better understanding of their own communities (to be released soon); and,
- The methodology of the study, including appendices for our statistical models.