Officials caution against assumptions on school quality
By Kim Howard
Students in Williston schools and at Champlain Valley Union High School scored nine to 19 percentage points higher than the state average in each category of the statewide learning assessment, according to results released last week.
The Vermont Developmental Reading Assessment and the Vermont New Standards Reference Exam are given to second graders in reading, and tenth graders in English and math. Chittenden South Supervisory Union officials cautioned against making generalizations about the quality of the supervisory union’s schools based solely on the tests from this year.
“We need to be very careful when we congratulate ourselves for being above average at the state level,” said Amy Cole, director of curriculum for Chittenden South Supervisory Union, of which Allen Brook School, Williston Central School and CVU are a part. The higher average socio-economic background of families in the areas encompassed by CSSU may be one factor in the discrepancy between CSSU performance and performance statewide, Cole indicated.
Furthermore, when looking at upward trends in assessment scores, “there’s a temptation to say ‘the program is getting better,’” she said of classroom teaching and programs. But, she continued, it’s important to remember that last year’s tenth-graders are an entirely different group of students than the previous year’s tenth-graders, for example, so each group may have different innate abilities.
Williston district principal Walter Nardelli said that in addition to providing some information about the effectiveness of educational programs, assessments like these “give us information about individual student performance. They help us identify students that are in need of special attention and individualized instruction.”
Schools use a wide range of strategies to assist students struggling in a specific area, according to Cole and CSSU superintendent Brian O’Regan. Math and literacy coordinators, afterschool homework clubs, and the reading recovery program are examples.
Both Cole and Nardelli noted that the state assessments are part of a larger evaluation system.
“The state assessment is one piece of information we use,” Cole said. “We have many other assessments we use in terms of program evaluation and direct results that inform teachers’ instruction on a daily basis.”
It is helpful to think of the assessment process like a triangle, said Cole, with state scores, local standardized assessment scores, and classroom teacher observations each filling one corner.
“There are times when the state assessment results match what we see in the classroom, and there are times that we don’t,” Cole said. When all three corners of the triangle match, she continued, “you have solid information on a child.”
Specific trends relating to income and gender in CSSU data largely mirror that of the state as a whole.
Family income was a significant divider of student performance in all categories at the high school level. Students eligible for free or reduced-fee school lunches (for a family of four, an annual maximum income of $25,155 or $35,798, respectively) performed dramatically lower than students who do not qualify. For example, 65 percent of students ineligible for free/reduced lunch met or exceeded the standards in reading analysis and interpretation, compared with 21 percent of students receiving free/reduced lunch. Only 17 percentage points separated the two groups at the second-grade level.
Gender trends seen statewide also held true within the supervisory union, with girls outperforming boys in English language arts categories.
Results from the New England Common Assessment Program tests, taken earlier this month by students in grades three through eight, will be released in the spring.
For more detailed information about educational assessment, see the state Department of Education Web site: www.state.vt.us/educ/new/html/pgm_assessment.html