Local schools outperform Vt. average on state tests

Scores vary by poverty, disability

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Local public school students outperformed their average Vermont peers on statewide tests, according to results released by the Vermont Department of Education last week.

“Community members can feel good about the results because they’re consistently higher than the state average across the board,” said Jude Newman, curriculum coordinator for the Chittenden South Supervisory Union.

Champlain Valley Union High School tenth graders scored between 10 and 19 percentage points higher than the statewide average in a range of math and reading categories. For example, 64 percent of CVU students met or exceeded the state standard for reading analysis and interpretation, compared with an average of 51 percent of Vermont tenth graders.

In early reading, the only skill on which second graders are tested, 88 percent of Williston public school second graders met or exceeded the state standard compared with 85 percent statewide average.

Students took the tests during the last academic year.

CVU tenth graders scored better on writing effectiveness and math skills than the previous year. They fared worse, however, in math problem solving. Williston second graders saw their reading scores drop slightly over the previous year.

Newman said the tests are a snapshot that helps educators understand how well the curriculum delivers the skills and information students are expected to master. Slight changes in scores from one year to the next may be attributable to cohort differences, meaning that one group of students took the test one year and a different group the year following, Newman said.

Gender differences in performance persist at the local and statewide level: girls outperform boys in all areas of reading and writing, and girls are slightly behind boys in math. It is socioeconomic background and disability status, however, which account for greater differences.

Students at CVU receiving free- or reduced-cost meals – a signifier of a lower socioeconomic background – scored substantially behind peers who do not receive subsidized meals. In basic reading understanding, for example, 48 percent of poorer students met or exceeded the state standard whereas 73 percent of their more financially secure peers did. In math problem solving, only 21 percent of poorer students met or exceeded the standard compared with 61 percent of their peers.

“Often kids with a low socioeconomic status come to school with a different skill set than those from middle income or higher socioeconomic status,” Newman said. Identifying students with those different skills early on – in preschool or kindergarten programs – is key in evening out differences between the two groups, Newman said. In kindergarten through eighth grade, teachers can look to individual student scores as indicators for those needing additional services.

“As kids get older, an effective strategy is understanding the individual learner,” Newman said. The high school’s ninth grade core classes program and their system of advisors, for example, help CVU educators know better how individual students learn, Newman said.

This is the last year the New Standards Reference Exam will be used in Vermont high schools to meet requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Next year, juniors will take the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) to assess if students are meeting government education standards. Third through eighth graders took NECAP exams this month.

As part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the state is required to publish reports of subgroups by race, socioeconomic status, disability, migrant status, and students for whom English is a second language. However, a subgroup score may be publicly reported only if the group comprises 10 or more students. There was no socioeconomic subgroup report on the state tests at the elementary level.

Though students with disabilities scored worse than their peers without identified disabilities, CVU students with disabilities did better than the state average in reading and writing, and two to three times better than state averages in math. Newman points to the supervisory union’s holistic approach to students pre-kindergarten through grade 12 as one explanation. The high level of teacher qualification in the supervisory union is likely another reason, she said