September 20, 2019

Williston, CVU pleased with new exam scores

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

As students return to the classroom for the start of a new school year, administrators are delving into the first results from the state’s new standardized tests.

All Vermont students in grades 3-8 and 11 took the Smarter Balanced Assessment exams—a computer-delivered test intended to be interactive and tailored to each student—for the first time in the spring. Williston students took a pilot exam in 2013.

The state released exam results Monday.

The tests are adaptive, meaning each student begins with a question that is in the middle of student ability level for that grade. If the student answers correctly, the next question is harder. If they answer incorrectly, the following question is easier.

Williston students surpassed state scores in reading, but were more in line with their peers across Vermont in math proficiency. Champlain Valley Union High juniors were well above state levels.

Jeff Evans, director of learning and innovation for Chittenden South Supervisory Union, said he was pleased with the results overall.

“We were told repeatedly that this was a more rigorous assessment and to anticipate a significant drop in scores from earlier standardized assessments,” Evans said. “When you look at projections nationally, we scored significantly higher than projections and also scored pretty high compared to other schools in the state. From those angles, we’re pretty happy. Right now it’s pretty early in terms of how to use the data and what to glean from it.”

Vermont is one of 31 states involved in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a group of states working to establish a new assessment system based on Common Core academic standards. The new assessments replaced the New England Common Assessment Program, known as NECAPs, in the 2014-2015 school year.

According to the state, scores were higher than projected, but students continue to struggle with math proficiency.

“The scores were better than we had expected,” Michael Hock, director of educational assessment at the Agency of Education, said.

Hock said that the SBAC had conducted a projection of Vermont’s possible scores based on past scores with the NECAP and other tests, but Vermont students had surpassed the projected scores.

In sixth and 11th grade, 37 percent of students statewide scored “proficient” or higher. Fifty-two percent of third graders met the standard. In English Language Arts, between 51 and 58 percent of students received scores that were proficient or higher.

As this was the first time that the SBAC was given to Vermont students, AOE Secretary Rebecca Holcombe said in a press release the results should not be compared to those from the NECAP or other standardized tests.

“As with any change, there will be a period of adjustment, as teachers and students get used to the new standards and tests,” the press release states. “Parents may notice that fewer students scored as proficient on the Smarter Balanced test than did on the NECAP tests.  This does not mean our students now know less, nor does it mean that our schools—both public and independent—are doing worse.  It simply means the test is a more challenging test, and the Smarter Balanced Consortium deliberately set a proficiency threshold that it knew most students would not meet.”


More Williston students scored proficient or higher than students statewide, but in many cases—though not all—trailed behind students in Charlotte, Shelburne and Hinesburg. Williston is the largest of the districts in the Chittenden South Supervisory Union.

“It was really great to see how well the (supervisory union) did, as compared to the state,” Williston School District Principal Greg Marino said. “Williston didn’t do as well on math and (English Language Arts) as some of the other K-8 districts, and we want to dig deeper into that.”

Marino said he plans to analyze results more thoroughly in the coming weeks and months.

“The questions are linked to Common Core standards. What standards are students strongest in, and what questions linked to which standards were the most challenging for Williston students?” Marino said. “We will dig in and look at the programmatic implications of that. What can we do to make sure students are more solid on those standards?”


CVU easily surpassed state levels, but some achievement gaps remain.

“Given CVU’s performance on other standardized tests I’ve seen and knowing what I know about the school, I’m not surprised to see how well our students performed,” CVU Principal Adam Bunting said. “Clearly there’s work to be done, as there always is. First and foremost, I want to take a moment to celebrate the hard work of our students and the faculty.

Evans said that as the former CVU principal, he was especially pleased to see that 81 percent of students scored proficient or higher on the reading portion of the exam, but that 50 percent scored proficient with distinction.

“That’s half our kids reading at a really high level,” he said.

On the math portion, 60 percent of students reached the proficient level.

Bunting said the next step is to sit down and analyze the data—not just administrators, but educators and faculty members and, when possible, students.

“We like to approach that with the idea of it being a team, not just administration,” he said.

The test results can be used to inform the education system as a whole, but can also focus on individuals and classes to figure out how to help students, Bunting said.

He noted that, like any test, the exams are a one-time assessment, and results should be taken with a grain of salt.

“The intent is to offer a mirror for how we’re progressing on our national and state standards, but it also helps provide a mirror on our own locally assessed standards,” he said.

Evans said supervisory union staff will also look for trends.

“These are standards-based assessments, so we’ll work on finding the trends within the standards to see which standards we’re particularly strong at and which ones need some focus,” he said. “It can help us develop moving forward as a system, and we take that same approach to the individual—how to prescribe learning paths for students to make sure they all are successful.”

—Sarah Olsen of Vermont Digger contributed to this report.

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