By Luke Baynes
Williston students are more proficient in science than the state average, but trail behind students in the other Chittenden South Supervisory Union towns of Hinesburg, Charlotte and Shelburne, according to the results of the New England Common Assessment Program science assessments.
The NECAP science results, released Friday by the Vermont Department of Education, reveal that 65 percent of Williston fourth-graders were proficient or higher on the science exams administered last May, compared to 53 percent at the state level. In 2011, Williston fourth-graders fared slightly better, with 66 percent scoring proficient or higher.
Among Williston eighth grade students, 43 percent were proficient or higher, compared to 30 percent statewide. It represents a one percentage point dip for Williston eighth-graders from 2011.
The NECAP science assessments are administered annually to Vermont public school students in fourth, eighth and 11th grades. Students are placed into one of four proficiency categories: proficient with distinction, proficient, partially proficient or substantially below proficient.
While 3 percent of Williston fourth-graders scored in the substantially below proficient category in 2012, compared to 4 percent in 2011, the category saw a significant spike among eighth grade students, jumping from 6 percent in 2011 to 12 percent in 2012.
Drilling deeper into the results, the numbers show that fourth grade students receiving free and reduced lunch were only 40 percent proficient or higher in 2012, compared to 50 percent in 2011. Among eighth grade free and reduced lunch students, the proficiency level remained at 17 percent year-over-year.
The proficiency levels of Williston eighth-graders receiving special education also dropped in 2012, falling to 6 percent proficient or higher, compared to 13 percent in 2011. Results for fourth grade special education students in Williston were not released, due to an insufficient sample size.
RESULTS FROM OTHER CSSU SCHOOLS
Williston Central School fourth- and eighth-graders had lower overall scores on the 2012 science NECAPs than their peers in the other CSSU towns of Hinesburg, Charlotte and Shelburne. (St. George, a CSSU member town, sends its primary and intermediate school children to Williston schools.)
Charlotte led the way at the fourth grade level, with 77 percent of students scoring proficient or higher, compared to 70 percent for Shelburne, 69 percent for Hinesburg and 65 percent for Williston.
Charlotte was also at the head of the pack among eighth-graders tested, with 73 percent placing proficient or higher, compared to 57 for Shelburne, 54 percent for Hinesburg and 43 percent for Williston.
Although the results provide useful comparisons among area schools, it should be noted that the percentages reflect disparate sample sizes. A total of 244 Williston fourth- and eighth-graders were tested, as opposed to 174 in Shelburne, 98 in Charlotte and 88 in Hinesburg.
It also bears noting that Charlotte and Shelburne have a smaller percentage of free and reduced lunch students—11 and 12 percent, respectively—than Williston and Hinesburg, which have respective percentages of 16 and 20 percent in the commonly used poverty metric.
As Vermont Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca observed in a press release, students from low income families have consistently lagged behind more affluent students in standardized testing.
“The data paints a clear picture that the achievement gap for children in poverty continues to be a challenge in Vermont and in the entire United States,” Vilaseca stated. “The Department continues to focus on closing that gap and ensuring that all students who graduate from high school are prepared to continue their education leading them toward meaningful and rewarding careers.”
Williston School District Principal Walter Nardelli could not be reached for comment.
CVU IMPROVES FOR SECOND CONSECUTIVE YEAR
Although Champlain Valley Union High School didn’t duplicate its dramatic seven percentage point leap in 2011—when it increased from 42 percent proficient or higher the previous two years to 49 percent—CVU 11th-graders still made gains in 2012, increasing their proficiency level to 54 percent.
In the process, CVU far outpaced the state average of 33 percent proficient or higher for 11th grade students and also ranked higher than other surrounding high schools. Both Essex High School and South Burlington High School scored 50 percent proficient or higher, while Mount Mansfield Union High School came in at a 45 percent clip.
“I’m very, very pleased” said CVU Principal Sean McMannon. “A couple of points I would pull out are in five years, we’ve raised our proficient and proficient with distinction from 40 to 54 percent, which is a significant increase, and that for our substantially below proficient, we’ve cut it in half, from 26 to 13 percent.”
CVU also made strides among free and reduced lunch students, jumping from 9 percent proficiency in 2011 to 22 percent in 2012, although McMannon said the results should be taken with a grain of salt, citing the fact that only 37 students fell into the free and reduced lunch category.
He similarly downplayed poor results among special education students, who scored 74 percent substantially below proficient in 2012, compared to 61 percent in 2011. McMannon pointed out both the small sample size of that demographic (35 students) and the fact that special education students typically struggle on standardized tests.
“You have to really dig down into the individual disabilities of students to have a more accurate picture,” he said. “(The science NECAP) has a very high reading component to it, so if a student has a disability related to literacy, they’re going to have a really difficult time with this assessment.”