Vermont Agency of Education introduces new program to measure student progress

Michael Bielawski/TNR

Secretary of Education Dan French announces a new statewide initiative to strengthen reading and math at all grade levels and provide school districts with tools to promote growth in core academic skill areas.

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Agency of Education is partnering with a North Carolina software company to measure student progress and provide better learning and career guidance for parents and students.

The announcement, made Thursday afternoon at a news conference at the National Life Building, came against the backdrop of student scores falling in reading and math, as seen most recently in the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) annual report card for 2019.

RELATED: Vermont student testing results on Nation’s Report Card show declines in reading, math

“We’ve heard from many educators and school districts asking for more tools to help students with reading and math, and we know why: Nearly half of our young learners are scoring below proficient on the Smarter Balanced Assessment in grades three and four,” Secretary of Education Dan French said.

“We’ve been looking for a way to give Vermont educators increased ability to monitor the performance of students in reading and math skills and to provide targeted supports to help them improve.”

The program, called Lexile and Quantile Frameworks, was created by Durham, N.C.-based MetaMetrics and is designed to strengthen student reading and math at all grade levels. While the program costs $200,000 per year, it is being funded through a federal grant and at no cost to school districts. The software has been adopted in at least 17 other states.

One challenge in education has been that standardized tests keep changing from one format to another. Examples include the most recent iteration of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), and before that, the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP). While continual change makes charting student progress challenging, the new software will help remedy the situation by providing consistent criteria from year to year.

“What we’re trying to do is provide an external, valid tool that is used widely across the country,” French said. “So hopefully no matter what program or curriculum implementation a district is engaged in, they will be able to see measured improvements now in a more objective and external measure.”

He added that this is not about endorsing one style of teaching over another, but is about monitoring performance.

The software has robust purposes, such as guiding students’ Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs), another relatively new Vermont education policy. A PLP is a custom learning path tailored to each student’s strengths, as well as their potential career interests.

“Having a common data framework will be very useful in personalizing learning for students through our related initiative, which is flexible pathways and personal learning plans,” French said.

French said that includes resources for “finding books at certain Lexile levels, vocabulary lists, a text analyzer, and access to the Lexile career database.”

Deputy Secretary of Education Heather Bouchey, who also spoke at the event, said the software can also play a role in helping students figure out what they need to do for life after school.

“Students can better discern how much more preparation is needed before they are college and career ready, and that preparation can be specifically tailored to different pathways that each student is interested in,” she said.

Bouchey said understanding technical manuals is a skill that for many professions has gotten even more demanding than in the past, and that’s something graduates entering the workforce need to be ready for.

Dropping scores

French also discussed what his agency is doing to figure out why student scores are dropping in math and English. He said one stand-out issue is that Vermont has three time the New England average of special education students who are suffering from “emotional disturbances.”

“The research suggests that might be because communities don’t have access to adequate mental health services,” French said.

The demands and costs of special education are substantial enough that state lawmakers were compelled to pass Act 173 in 2018, which reformed how special education expenditures are billed. It’s now a block-grant model versus the former pay-per-service model.

French added in the past there may have been over-identification of special education needs occurring in schools because it helped them get more resources.

Asked if there are more students that need special education in general, French it’s a subject education officials are studying.

“It points to the need for us to have a closer partnership with our mental health agencies,” he said. “There’s a lot of discussion in education about what the causes are, and some research points to the fact that 50 percent of what impacts a student’s performance happens outside of the school.”

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Michael Bielawski/TNR

11 thoughts on “Vermont Agency of Education introduces new program to measure student progress

  1. How deep is the conflict of interest in Vermont’s public school monopoly?

    MetaMetrics Corporation, North Carolina based education assessment provider.

    National Education Policy Center, Boulder, CO 80309-0249
    Recommends the Lexile® Framework For Reading by MetaMetrics

    William Mathis, Chair of the Vermont Board of Education Legislative Committee, Chair of the SBE Education Quality Review Subcommittee, Design consultant for the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) … AND Managing Director of National Education Policy Center – funded in part by the national teacher’s unions.

    Of course, the Vermont Agency of Education contracted with MetaMetrics. These are just some of the education predators circling their financial prey at the great public education watering hole.

    Is this the same William Mathis who said: “Who likes school test scores? Almost no one.” 09-07-2019 11:10 PM

  2. Isn’t socialism great. The state decides how schools will teach and what is considered good and wise. — Wait until the liberals take over factories and decide where you can live and what you can drive, if they decide you are allowed to have a vehicle.

    That sounds over the top, but is it? We are seeing the results of Act 60 that effectively socialized education, and the democrats in Vermont and nation-wide want more of it.

  3. Just keep changing the process until the state gets what it wants for answers. Who cares about substance or what it costs to keep changing. Ask questions of the kids like, do you know where the bathroom is in your school?. This such BS.

  4. We need a program to “measure” and control the Vermont Agency of Education and alike boards in Montpelier that have ruined education and forced high property taxes.

    An upcoming political platform to run on? Control the controllers.

  5. Vermont Agency of ” Education ” introduces a new program to measure student progress,
    where’s the program for measuring Teacher’s progress ???

    Test scores in the tank, kids cannot do basic math but year after year teachers get a pay
    increase for failure to the students……. they should hold their heads in shame.

  6. Let’s let the teachers teach like 25 years ago before all this government testing started! Teachers know best what their students need and how to teach them!! Also get rid of this crazy new math we are forcing the students to learn! What happened to one and one equal two, not this six step process!

  7. As part of this process, it is my hope that teacher tenure, promotion and salary evaluation will be based upon performance and outcome and NOT seniority. As long as the NEA calls the shots, it will not happen.

  8. I have a much better idea…why don’t we stop sending Vermont taxpayer dollars to out of state companies and institute a program to measure the quality of Teachers who demand more money every time their contract comes up for renewal. These same teachers are not willing to be held accountable. Maybe then we can figure out why our kids are not learning. Instead of tossing more and more money at the problem hoping for a solution, lets stop and think.

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