Vermont dips in state education assessment scores

MONTPELIER — Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe has announced the results for the 2016-2017 Smarter Balanced Assessments for math and English, and according to the Agency of Education, student scores have dipped since last year.

The test is unique in that it is a “computer adaptive test,” meaning students take it online and question difficulty adapts to each successive answer given. When a students gets an answer wrong, an easier question will follow, and vice versa.

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TEST SCORES DOWN: The results of the Smarter Balanced Assessment test are in, and the scores are down a little bit from last year.

According to a news release put out by the agency, an adaptive test “means the test can provide a more precise measure of what students can and cannot do.”

Test questions were developed through a collaborative effort of 15 states, the Virgin Islands, and the Bureau of Indian Education. The material is ultimately based on the newly adopted Common Core curriculum, which 46 states have adopted since 2013, with about a dozen since considering legislation to repeal.

Students in grades three through eight and grade 11 took the test during the spring. The purpose of the test is to understand where students are in math and English in relation to the Common Core standards, which are considered to be relatively high.

“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 at improving the performance of our students relative to these standards,” the agency said in the news release.

So far, it’s not clear why there was a dip in performance. Even so, Holcombe downplayed the sagging performance.

“The relationship between strong academic skills and financial security and well-being is stronger than it has ever been, regardless of whether our students are headed to careers or college when they graduate,” she said in a statement.

“Tests don’t measure everything that matters to a happy and successful life, including our ability to participate in democratic life, but there is no path to prosperity for students who don’t master reading, writing and mathematics.”

The average math and English scores for all grades last year were 45.43 percent and 56.43 percent proficient respectively. That’s compares to this year’s math and English averages of 43.14 percent to 54.86 percent respectively, or about a 2 percentage point drop for each.

(Full test results can be found here.)

Proficiency means the percentage of students that scored above what the state considers as “proficient.” These numbers do not account for how much better or worse students did in relation to that proficiency mark.

Deputy Education Secretary Amy Fowler offered her thoughts on the low marks.

“We can’t know for sure why scores declined, but several factors could contribute,” she said. “It could be in the last year people were focused on issues other than assessment. It could be as people are moving to implement the Education Quality Standards and other initiatives, attention has been diverted from improving learning, or any other number of factors.”

In math, the proficiency rates generally decline from lower to higher grades, starting at 52 percent for third-graders and just 37 percent for 11th-graders.

The numbers were better across the board for English, with a low of 49 percent proficient for third-graders and a high of 59 percent for grade 11.

There were other patterns among race and gender, such as Asians on average scored the highest and blacks on average had some of the lower scores.

There were gender differences too, girls were on average about 10 percent more proficient than boys. (Click here for results by race/ethnicity, gender and other characteristics.)

One of the most telling trends is family income. Students on free or reduced lunch programs were among the lowest scoring of all the groups at just around 20 to 40 percent range in proficiency. Grade 11 students in the program scored just 17 percent proficient in math.

Frustrations over the low scores are not going over well in some other states. Some states, including Oregon, West Virginia, and Wyoming, are dropping the SBAC assessment altogether.

“The number of states using either Smarter Balanced or PARCC (another assessment for Common Core) as state-wide assessments has dwindled from 45 to 20 states and the District of Columbia,” Truth In American Education blogger Shane Vander Hart reported in May.

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

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/ProjectManhattan

8 thoughts on “Vermont dips in state education assessment scores

  1. Teachers that go on strike during a calendar school year should be jailed immediately . Students that are delinquents are hunted down like dogs. Their parents are brought into courts and shamed so why not teachers ?

    They are contributing to delinquency’s of minors by schools being closed. The police have had to put on extra patrols to curb this student delinquency brought on by a pack of Wolves in sheep’s clothing with a degree or to

  2. Perhaps all the working (eg taxpaying) parents should quit their jobs, citing lack of childcare availability, enjoy being home with their own kids and homeschool them, as well, and let the teachers pay for it through THEIR taxes. The kids will get a better education, the parents will be able to play “turn around is fair play” with the teachers.

  3. Our local high school scores were so bad, the school board stopped placing the scores in the annual budget booklet. They even stopped mailing the budget booklet to the voters. A citizen can ask for one to be sent to them. The finances are reported in a vague and confusing manner that is undecipherable. The book is mostly a large advertisement for the auditing firm that the school admin hires. The town auditors, by law, are no longer to audit the books of the school. Public education in Vermont has become an absolute joke and not a funny one at that.

  4. You rarely hear about the students test scores and what the tax paying public is getting
    for their money, it sounds like another boondoggle for the tax payers.

    This week Burlington teachers decided to go on strike!! They were offered a raise over
    the next three years plus medical benefits and decided it wasn’t enough?? The average
    tax payer hasn’t seen a raise like what was offered in decades. they surely are working
    more then the 180 days teachers work … shameful.

    The only thing I haven’t heard from the Teachers Group (NEA) this year is their canned
    statement “It’s For The Kids” … What I see is greed & entitlement .

    If they are not back at work under the current contract within a week, I would fire them all and hire some new blood. we have plethora of graduates every year.

  5. Why is anyone surprised that this is what taxpayers receive for arguably one of the most expensive public school programs in the world?

    At some point Vermonters must realize that “…support[ing] our schools and teachers as they figure out how to support better learning outcomes” isn’t the way the world works. We don’t pay professionals to figure out how to do something. We pay them to perform. Ms. Holcomb and the public school monopoly conveniently forget that taxpayers have been paying teachers to ‘figure out’ this increasingly poor performance for years with ‘in-service days’, ‘professional development’ stipends and salary ‘step increases’.

    They’re missing the point. It’s not about the teachers. It’s not about the schools. It’s about the families and their children.

    There are no incentives in the public school monopoly for our students and their parents to perform as well as they can. We award everyone with the equivalent to ‘participation trophies’. While half of our students aren’t performing to the standards, they graduate anyway. We stimulate dysfunctional behavior by rewarding it with increased services and attention at the expense of those who are personally motivated. And most disturbingly – we do this because dysfunction has become a growth industry. The worse our student performance becomes, the higher are the salaries required to deal with it.

    There is a solution. School Choice.

    And I know the majority of you are already rolling your eyes. But what do you have to lose? You’re paying as much to educate a 1st grader as it costs to send a student to college. And for what? This article didn’t mention the NECAP science scores – which are even worse than the Smarter Balance assessments.

    Sooner or later, Vermonters will realize that subsidizing education is only half of a successful education equation. We must provide parents and their children incentives to perform well. Let parents and their children have some skin in the game by choosing to work with those educators who convince them they can do a better job. Allow educators to have some skin in the game too, by working outside the one-size-fits-all, consolidated public school monopoly.

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