Vermont school test score data nine months overdue

Published: 7/28/2019 9:58:03 PM
Modified: 7/28/2019 9:57:59 PM

In October of 2018, the Vermont Agency of Education released statewide, top-line test scores from that spring’s math and English testing. But school-by-school results, they said, would need to wait until December.

Nine months later, they still aren’t out.

In January, officials said complications from the rollout of a new data collection system had delayed the release of the scores further. Later, they said the scores would be released alongside the Annual Snapshot, a new report card for schools developed by the state to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

The Snapshot, released in June, did include information about academic performance, based in part on those test scores. But the actual results weren’t included. Agency officials at that time said they would be available through the state’s previous portal for reporting scores within a couple of weeks.

A month later, they still aren’t available. Ted Fisher, a spokesperson for the agency, said it could be another four weeks before they were.

Secretary of Education Dan French would not be available for an interview for at least another week and half, Fisher said Wednesday. But he did offer a written statement from the secretary, which stated that the agency had been “focused on implementing the Annual Snapshot and a streamlined vertical data reporting system for over a year.”

“This work has been difficult, but rewarding, and has necessarily drawn our attention. We have been focused strategically on the critical work of meeting federal requirements and safeguarding funding for our most vulnerable students. We have worked hard to ensure our finite resources are deployed efficiently and in a manner that yields the most benefit for Vermonters,” French said.

For many, the delayed test scores are just further evidence the agency is struggling to keep up.

“Late reports and delayed data are becoming the norm, which makes it difficult for policymakers to make informed decisions,” said State Board of Education Chair Krista Huling.

Huling added that the board had also been disappointed by the Snapshot’s delayed rollout, and the fact that only academic indicators have been included so far.

The report card is eventually supposed to also include data about personalization, school climate, staffing, and spending priorities.

Agency officials say a second round of data will be released in December 2019, and that it should include all measures by December 2020.

The whole point of the new dashboard was to give the public a more holistic measure of school success, Huling said. That’s not possible when only academic performance data are available.

“It’s the exact thing we said we did not want,” she said.

The agency is “seriously understaffed,” said Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden, who chairs the Senate Education Committee.

“It’s resulted in delays and errors and a general inability to do their jobs. I’ve been trying to light a fire under Secretary French and this administration for a year now, to pick up the pace of hiring, but they seem content to continue running the agency well below full strength,” he said.

Staffing capacity at the agency worried House lawmakers enough last session that House Education chair Rep. Kate Webb, D-Shelburne, and Government Operations chair Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, D-Bradford, held a joint hearing on the subject. The agency has lost about a fourth of its staff to budget cuts since the Great Recession.

But Webb said that, as for the test scores, she was “not concerned at this time,” since students, teachers, and districts have access to their individual results.

“I expect to meet the secretary in August and am following the progress,” she said.

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