Many students not meeting science standards (10/1/09)

Williston, CVU students still outperform state average on NECAPs

Oct. 1, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Students in the Williston School District and Champlain Valley Union High School continue to struggle with the New England Common Assessment Program science tests, according to data released last week. Still, scores from the elementary and middle school district and high school remain significantly higher than statewide averages.


    Courtesy image


    Courtesy image


    Courtesy image

This was the second year that students were administered the science version of the standardized tests, known as NECAP exams. Students in fourth, eighth and 11th grades took the statewide assessment tests in the spring, and Vermont’s Department of Education released the scores last week.

In the Williston School District, 64 percent of fourth grade students and 36 percent of eighth graders scored proficient or higher on the tests. Those numbers bested the state averages of 52 percent and 25 percent for fourth and eighth graders, respectively.

At CVU, 42 percent of 11th graders scored proficient or higher, compared to the state average of 27 percent.

Scores are split into four levels: proficient with distinction, proficient, partially proficient and substantially below proficient.

On the science exams, only 1 percent of Vermont students scored at the highest proficiency.

“We are still very concerned to see the numbers so low,” said Michael Hock, education assessment director for the Vermont Department of Education.

He added that the DOE wants to make sure school districts align their science curriculum with the state’s science requirements.

Reaction to Williston’s scores

Williston School District Principal Walter Nardelli said teachers and administrators were still looking over the test results this week and would soon develop an action plan.

“This is not even close to how we want to be performing,” Nardelli said.

A group of parents seemed to agree with Nardelli’s assessment. An e-mail circulated late last week by the parent group Reconfigure Williston Schools cited the district’s low scores.

“As a community, we must all do our best to assure that it will not take 4 or more years for our science curriculum to turn around and meet the needs for our students of the 21st Century,” the e-mail stated.

Members of the group declined the Observer’s request for further comment.

Nardelli replied to the e-mail, saying the administration’s goal was to get everyone performing at the highest levels.

“No school should be celebrating until over 90% of the students are meeting or exceeding the standards on a consistent basis,” Nardelli wrote in the response letter.

Reconfigure Williston Schools has argued in the past that Williston does not offer enough science instruction to students. An internal audit conducted by the administration last school year determined the school does meet minimum state time requirements, especially when science is integrated with other subjects.

Hock said integrated learning is an important teaching device. He added Williston’s integrated programs may have helped the district score above the state average.

“It seems that schools that integrate science tend to do better,” Hock said.

Williston’s fourth and eighth grade students scored comparably to other schools in Chittenden South Supervisory Union.

The district’s fourth grade scores improved 5 percentage points over last year, when 59 percent of students tested proficient or higher.

Eighth grade scores, on the other hand, saw a drop of 10 percentage points; 46 percent of students scored proficient or higher last year.

Nardelli said Williston’s eighth grade scores particularly troubled him. By examining the test closely, the administration hopes to see how the curriculum matches up with what is being tested.

“We need to see what changed on this year’s test from the previous year,” Nardelli said. “The whole state went down, so that has to say something.”

Last year, 26 percent of eighth graders in Vermont scored proficient or higher.

Nardelli said the administration will take a long look at the district’s science curriculum, especially in the eighth grade. The way the school operates its science labs might need adjustment as well. Students have their science labs in their academic houses, with equipment traveling between teams. Other middle schools have lab rooms that different science classes use on a rotating basis, Nardelli said.

“We don’t really have that,” Nardelli said, adding it could prove difficult, but not impossible, to make lab changes.

CVU looks to improve

At CVU, Principal Sean McMannon said that while he was happy his students performed better than the state average, there is room to improve. He also said further data needs to be collected with future tests.

“I cannot glean much useful information from the scores at this point until we do an in-depth review of the results over the course of four-to-six years to establish a trend,” McMannon wrote in an e-mail to the Observer.

CVU students in grade 11 tested a little higher than last year’s scores. In 2008, 40 percent of CVU students scored proficient or higher, compared to this year’s 42 percent.

McMannon said the CVU administration is looking for ways to improve its science curriculum. Currently, students, teachers and staff are giving feedback to the administration on how to best to improve curriculum, including science.

“The challenge in a public high school is to be clear about what content and skills we believe are essential and deliver this to all students while cultivating additional opportunities for students to pursue their passions in a variety of areas,” McMannon wrote in an e-mail.

Low scores for student subgroups

The achievement gap for students with disabilities and students on free or reduced lunch programs continues to be an issue for the Williston School District and CVU. Only a small percentage of students in those subgroups scored proficient. It’s a gap both school systems have struggled with in past NECAP exams.

NECAP tests are also given each fall for reading and math in grades three through eight and grade 11. Grades five, eight and 11 also take writing NECAP exams in the fall. The tests are given to meet standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Students in Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island also take the NECAP exams.

Williston is currently under corrective action by the DOE for not meeting Adequate Yearly Progress for both student subgroups.

Hock said schools are not put on any improvement plan based on science NECAP scores.