School & District Management Report Roundup

Poverty’s Effects Vary by Environment

By Sarah D. Sparks — October 22, 2013 1 min read

Students in poverty have been repeatedly shown to have poorer working memory than higher-income students, but students living in urban versus rural poverty show different types of working-memory problems, finds a new study in the fall issue of the Journal of Cognition and Development.

Michele Tine, an assistant education professor at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., gave a series of tests of verbal and visual-spatial working memory to 186 6th graders in three low-income rural schools, one low-income urban school, and one high-income school each in rural and urban areas. The tests included reciting strings of remembered numbers in reverse order for verbal memory, and recalling the positions and patterns of shapes for spatial memory, among others.

Higher-income rural and urban students performed about equally well in verbal and visual-spatial memory tasks, at about the 60th percentile. However, while students in urban poverty performed at just below the 40th percentile in both verbal and spatial working memory, students in rural poverty performed better in verbal-memory tasks—at the 45th percentile—and significantly worse in visual-spatial working memory, at the 29th percentile. “I was surprised to see the visual-spatial weakness in the rural population,” Ms. Tine said.

The Dartmouth professor suggested that rural students may have to navigate less-complex spatial environments, leading to weaker spatial memory, but causes of the differences aren’t clear.

A version of this article appeared in the October 09, 2013 edition of Education Week as Poverty’s Effects Vary by Environment

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