By Rob Roper
The latest test scores for Vermont students are here, and they continue an unsettling trend of decline for our student outcomes. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released its fourth and eighth grade reading and math results from 2017, which indicates declines in all categories from 2015. Three of the four categories were noted as “significantly different.”
This downward trend is also present in the latest Smarter Balanced test results, which showed a decline in scores between 2015 and 2016. This test is given to all kids in grades three through eight, plus 11. And again, in all categories except one, scores dropped.
As Bill Mathis of the State Board of Education said, “When you have two different tests showing much the same thing, you have to pay attention to them.”
So, what is causing this decline in public school student outcomes? There are several policies that are suspect.
- Act 46 (2015) has been hugely disruptive and time intensive for school boards and administrators, taking focus away from students.
- Increased use of paraeducators for special needs students. (See 2015 study.)
- The growth of publicly funded/administered Pre-K. Implemented in 2007, the number of Vermont students matriculating through the 4th grade from these “high quality” programs began in 2012-13, has been increasing every year, and test scores have been dropping since.
- Adoption of “Proficiency Based” graduations standards, which began implementation in 2014
As one concerned parent testified regarding proficiency based learning, “It entails significant changes in how a school operates and how it teaches students, affecting everything from the school educational philosophy and culture to its methods of instruction, testing, grading, honors, reporting, promotion and graduation.”
Maybe it’s one of these things, or maybe it’s a combination of some, or maybe it’s all of them. Maybe this is just too much for school systems to digest at all at once. We don’t know for sure. But what we do know for sure is that the policies coming out of Montpelier are not helping our kids or out teachers.
So, at this point, perhaps lawmakers should take a break from heaping even more disruptive mandates and system changes on our schools and devote their time to figuring out how to clean up the messes they’ve made.