By Rob Roper
The latest Vermont standardized test scores are out, and the results are not good, especially for students who have been “historically marginalized.” This is nothing new. The “achievement gap” has been persistent for decades.
In 2017, when these numbers came out, then Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe stated, “The achievement gaps between our vulnerable youth and students with greater privilege remain.”
Cut and paste from 2016 when she said, “Our most vulnerable youth — those living in poverty, with disabilities, from marginalized populations and who speak English as a second — continue to have test scores that are on average lower than our general population.”
Cut and paste from Holcombe’s predecessor, Armando Vilaseca, who said when he left office in 2013: “I am particularly concerned that we still have not made major progress in closing the achievement gap for students living in poverty.” Though, it would be more accurate to say that our public school model has not made any progress in addressing this issue.
I could go on, but you get the picture.
In a 2015 report titled, Kicked Out! Unfair and Unequal Student Discipline in Vermont’s Public Schools, Vermont Legal Aid reported, “Vermont’s students with disabilities and students of color were two to three times more likely to be excluded from school through suspension and expulsion.”
The “reforms” put in place to bolster a flawed system not alter it (expanding public school oversight to pre-K, Act 46 consolidations, etc.), clearly are not working and are arguably making the problems worse. As you can see from looking at this year’s posted scores from the Agency of Education, the longer marginalized populations remain in the system, the larger the gap grows.
|X.1||~~~English scale scores~~~||X.2||X.3||~~~Math scale scores~~~||X.4||X.5|
|Grade||Historically marginalized||Not historically marginalized||Difference||Historically marginalized||Not historically marginalized||Difference|
Perhaps it’s time to accept that this is a structural problem with the system. The way we provide education does not work for the most vulnerable in the system, and hasn’t worked for a long time. Forcing any child, especially those from marginalized groups, into a system that, as the evidence repeatedly shows, does not work for them is a form of cruel and unusual punishment.
According to this VTDigger article, “Bill Mathis, the managing director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, said that both the age of the scores, and the fact that they largely reflected longstanding and stubborn achievement gaps, suggested that they offered little insight into what is working or not in Vermont’s schools. ‘The ball game is socio economics,’ said Mathis, who also sits on (but was not speaking for) the State Board of Education. ‘You’re measuring socio economics more so than the quality of the school.’”
In any other context this would be derided as a “dog whistle.”
Stop Police Terror D.C. Project organizer Sean Blackmon said in a June 9 NPR story regarding policing reforms, “We keep seeing a massive investment into the D.C. police even though policing isn’t working. I mean, homicides are going up in Washington, D.C. So, we have to ask ourselves, why does money keep going to an institution, an agency that is clearly not working?”
The same could be said of the Vermont public school system, and should be.