Efforts to keep low-income students on par with their peers academically -- often regarded as a school system's most difficult challenge -- have met with limited success in the D.C. region.

There are few bright spots. In D.C., a recent release of results on a national reading test showed that DCPS low-income fourth-graders improved their scores since 2007 at a higher rate than any of the 18 urban districts included in the report. Among low-income eighth-graders, however, there was no significant change.

In Montgomery County, about 75 percent of low-income third-graders passed the state standardized math test in 2009, compared with about 92 percent of their higher-income peers.

But among eighth-graders, the gap is more pronounced. Barely half of low-income students passed the math test, compared with about 83 percent of higher-income eighth-graders.

Reading tests reveal a smaller but still significant gap at both grade levels. A spark of good news could be found in persistent trends upward on both exams, for most grades.

In Fairfax County, about 85 percent of the district's low-income students passed the state English exam, and about 78 percent succeeded with math. That compares with overall student pass rates of 93 percent and 90 percent, respectively.

Fairfax will spend at least $3 million next year on a new "Priority Schools Initiative" designed to funnel resources to elementary and middle schools with the lowest student achievement. Many of the designated schools also hold the highest percentage of low-income kids.

The initiative will replace a past effort, unproven in its success, that provided longer school years and extended class days for the neediest schools.

mailto:lfabel@washingtonexaminer.com ">lfabel@washingtonexaminer.com