Students shine on standardized tests

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Vermont outpaced the national average on last spring’s standardized student tests, and Colchester outpaced Vermont.

School-by-school results from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests taken last spring in grades 3-8 and grade 11 were released last week.

The test measures student proficiency in the national Common Core curriculum and replaces the former New England Common Assessment Program tests that were used under the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind federal education law.

Last spring’s tests marked the second year SBACs were administered in Vermont and the first under the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015. The online tests assess student proficiency in English language arts and mathematics.

“It is a rigorous assessment. It’s more rigorous than NECAP,” director of curriculum and education Gwen Carmolli said.

According to district numbers, which are lower than the state-reported data, in Colchester, the seven tested grade levels averaged 64 percent of students at or above proficiency in English, compared to 57 percent in Vermont and 52 percent nationally.

In math, the grade levels averaged 58 percent of students at or above proficiency compared to 47 percent in Vermont and 41 percent nationally. The national percentage represents only the seven states that have so far reported scores out of the 15 states participating in the SBAC.

Most grade levels in Colchester scored better than they did the year before.

“There is a lot of good news to celebrate,” Colchester School Board member Lincoln White said.

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Carmolli analyzed the scores by grade, student ability and family income. She found English scores generally increased from lower grades to higher grades, and math scores generally decreased from lower grades to higher grades.

For example, 63 percent of third-graders scored at or above proficient in English compared to 72 percent of high school juniors. But 73 percent of third-graders scored at or above proficient in math compared to 53 percent of high school juniors.

All Colchester grade levels scored at or above the state average in math. In English, only the sixth-grade class scored below the state average. Sixth grade was Colchester’s lowest-performing grade in both math and English.

“Sixth-grade has had a challenge with the assessment,” Carmolli said. “It is a transition year. It does follow a trend across the country and the state.”

The analysis also identified achievement gaps in students with disabilities and students in poverty compared to the entire student population.

Students in poverty, defined as those receiving free or reduced lunch, scored roughly 15 percentage points lower than the student body as a whole. However, in most grade levels, students in poverty scored above the state average for the same population.

Students with disabilities scored as much as 50 percentage points below the student population as a whole, data shows.

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Under No Child Left Behind, schools were required to make “adequate yearly progress” on standardized tests with penalties for schools that did not.

According to Carmolli, AYP standings are frozen until the U.S. Department of Education determines progress requirements under the new federal law.

She also said some Vermont education leaders helping implement the federal law “are hopeful that assessments will go away.”

The Vermont Agency of Education recommends schools use the test results as a baseline for determining annual progress.

“Over time, the results will provide teachers and parents with an increasingly reliable and accurate snapshot of how their children are performing … and will offer community members throughout the state a common measure for evaluating the success of schools, both locally and statewide,” a press release states.