District kids close out NECAP science test with above average scores

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Colchester students notched above-average scores on this year’s New England Common Assessment Program science test, their 2017 numbers among the last to populate the dataset before the state transitions to a new standardized model next year.

Pupils in grades 4, 8 and 11 took the NECAP last spring and achieved 48, 27 and 52 percent proficiency, respectively. Grade 4 and 8 numbers topped the applicable state averages by just 2 percentage points apiece, but grade 11 scored a whopping 19 points higher than the state, according to a district-generated presentation.

“We’re proud of that number there,” superintendent Amy Minor told the school board last week. “A lot of work happened the last several years at the high school to work on that.”

Colchester’s grade 11 scores were also the only to rise from 2016 to 2017, according to the presentation, moving from 45 to 52 percent proficiency. Grade 8 scores fell from 29 to 27 percent during the same timeframe, while grade 4 saw an 11-point drop: 59 to 48 percent.

A table of science scores for all tested grade levels shows a fairly tumultuous history from 2012 to 2017, with the most inconsistency in grade 4. That data will now be only minimally useful for future comparisons, Minor noted, since the state will begin using a new test next spring.

Still, school board member Curt Taylor pressed for an explanation based on the current data. The cohort of grade 4 students in 2012 scored 65 percent proficiency, he observed, but earned just 29 percent proficiency when tested as eighth-graders last year.

A similar pattern was true again this year: The cohort of grade 4 students in 2013 scored 55 percent proficiency, according to provided numbers. This spring, only 27 percent of the same students were proficient on the grade 8 assessment.

“What is challenging about that comparison is that it’s a different set of standards and it’s not completely apples to apples,” Minor said, noting many kids moved through the district in those intervening years. “Each year, you’re looking at a number of students who are going in and going out.”

2017 proficiency status for students living in poverty fell far below their grade level averages by at least a two-to-one margin in each case, with grade 8 presenting the sharpest deviation. Minor said these discrepancies are present across the state.

“[The gap] is something that we definitely need try to decrease,” Minor said, adding the district may be held accountable in the future if those statistics don’t progress.

The new science assessment will be administered online this spring to students in grades 5, 8 and 11 and will focus more on engineering skills, according to the presentation. This year, Colchester students showed strength in physical, life and earth and space sciences, the report shows.

At press time, scores for other individual schools in Vermont were still embargoed, meaning the district cannot yet compare themselves to similar schools in the region.

Looking just at average state NECAP scores, school board member Craig Kieny still questioned why Vermont consistently posts proficiency well below 50 percent, especially in math and science.

“It’s great that we’re above average,” Kieny said of Colchester student scores. “But still, above average at 40 percent is not what we’re looking for.”

Minor said a slew of factors are to blame for the relatively low scores, including shifting testing standards that don’t always align with the curriculum path. Several Colchester delegates will have input on the new Vermont school accountability model, Minor noted, and hopes the system model might improve in turn.

“How much do you teach to the test?” Minor asked, posing a question she said all schools grapple with. “We’ve always wanted our students to perform well, but we also want to be really careful as a district that we’re not going to necessarily just teach to the test.”