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Board tackles ‘disappointing’ NECAP scores

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

The Williston School Board met Oct. 10 for the first time since the Vermont Department of Education released the results of the 2012 New England Common Assessment Program science assessments.

None of the five board members were pleased with what they saw.

Nor was Williston District Principal Walter Nardelli, who didn’t hide his displeasure in his opening remarks to the board.

“It’s simply disappointing,” Nardelli said.

While Williston Central School fourth- and eighth-graders fared better than the state averages on the science NECAPs, part of Nardelli’s disappointment stemmed from the fact that Williston students failed to repeat the year-over-year gains they demonstrated in 2011—particularly at the eighth-grade level.

In 2011, 44 percent of WCS eighth-graders scored proficient or higher on the standardized science test, compared to just 26 percent in 2010. In 2012, by contrast, they actually lost ground from the prior year, with 43 percent scoring proficient or higher.

Adding to Nardelli and the board’s discontent is the fact that the other Chittenden South Supervisory Union towns outperformed Williston. At the eighth-grade level, 73 percent of Charlotte students scored proficient or higher, compared to 57 percent for Shelburne, 54 percent for Hinesburg and 43 percent for Williston.

“Charlotte hit it out of the park,” said board member Kevin Mara. “So what are they doing that we’re not?”

Molly McClaskey, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for CSSU, responded that Charlotte Central School does “mega test prep,” and that as a smaller school it is easier for its administrators to reallocate teaching resources.

“They’re a smaller school, and they’ve done a really great job of saying (to teachers), ‘You will teach science this many times a week for this long,’” McClaskey said. “So there’s continuity across the school, and that is hard to achieve in a bigger school, where you have a lot of competing interests for student time and student instruction.”

Board member Giovanna Boggero seized upon McClaskey’s test prep comment, calling it an “incredible area of opportunity” for WCS to introduce students to the types of questions that will be asked on the NECAP assessments.

“When the rubber hits the road and they sit in front of the exam, they have never been asked questions like that,” Boggero said. “We’re literally sending the kids to the front unarmed, and that is not OK.”

She added that despite her misgivings about the standardized test process, students and teachers have no choice but to play the hand they’re dealt.

“It’s an exam that is designed to confuse a child,” Boggero said. “It’s so sad to say that, but sadly enough, we’re not going to change that in this room, so we need to do something about it and we need to prep the kids. We need to give them the tools.”

Nardelli agreed with Boggero that there needs to be increased test preparation for students.

“They should never be surprised by a type of question they’ve never seen before,” Nardelli said.

He also suggested that the school needs to do a better job of working with parents to ensure that students are properly motivated and understand the ramifications of the test results.

“We really have to make sure that parents and students know that this is very important, that these scores are going to be recorded in public and they’re a reflection on (students’) learning and the school,” Nardelli said.