Vermont Students’ Proficiency Level Dips

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Montpelier — The number of Vermont students scoring proficient on the statewide test dipped this year, and a stubborn gap remains between students of means and those struggling with poverty.

State education officials said they do not know why scores went down.

“We were disappointed to see those score declines,” Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe said. She attributed any narrowing of the achievement gap between low-income students and their wealthier peers to a drop in the latter group’s progress, not a stronger performance by the lower-income students.

“The achievement gaps between our vulnerable youth and students with greater privilege remain, and in some cases were narrowed, but this was largely a result of score declines for more privileged groups,” Holcombe said.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests students on Common Core state standards for English and mathematics in grades three through eight as well as grade 11. The threshold for proficiency is set high, according to the Agency for Education. The results help drive federal dollars to students who need the most support.

“These standards are deliberately ambitious, to ensure we have high expectations for our students,” the agency said in a news release. “Over time, the results will provide community members, teachers and parents with an increasingly reliable and accurate snapshot of children’s mastery of these standards as well as the progress of our schools.”

On Wednesday the agency released the statewide results for the spring of 2017. This is the third year the test has been administered, but 2016’s scores were used as the baseline, not those from 2015. Haley Jones, a spokesperson for the Education Agency, said last year that 2017 results will allow for comparisons.

“Next year there will be three years of results to look back on. Students will be used to the test, and we will get a better understanding of how they are doing,” she told VtDigger in 2016.

2015 was the first year for the test. That year, students took the exam entirely online. The SBAC is a computer-adapted test that changes the questions based on the student’s answers to get a more accurate account of the student’s mastery of the subject.

The 2016 test results are the baseline and this is the first year you can compare data, according to Jones. “Students have taken the test for three years with two years of back-to-back data so you could compare last year to this year,” she said.

But, she added, “it is up to you to compare.” The agency also does not rank schools. “You can do your own analysis,” she said.

What the agency did report on Wednesday was not just the percentage of proficient students for each grade but the average scale scores — adjusted raw scores. This is important because the percentages can be misleading; a school with a higher percentage of kids performing at or above proficiency than another school could actually have average scale scores that are almost identical, according to Testing Director Michael Hock.