ELIZABETH A. CONKEY
BENNINGTON -- Last week, the Vermont Agency of Education released the results of the spring 2013 science assessment, a test that is part of the New England Common Assessment Program, which was implemented statewide in 2005.
The NECAPs, administered yearly to fourth, eighth, and eleventh-graders across Vermont, evaluate student performance in the areas of reading, writing, mathematics and science.
The science assessment in particular, according to the Vermont Agency of Education's website, "is designed to measure students' scientific literacy, a body of skills and knowledge that combines factual information from biological, physical and earth/space science with the higher order thinking skills that are part of scientific inquiry.
Locally, some elementary schools within the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union saw success with the science assessment, while results from other schools indicated the need for improvement.
The now fifth-graders at the newly independent Village School of North Bennington proved to be tremendously successful, the 15 students tested ranking in the 80th percentile for proficiency, a 20 percent increase from last year.
The Village School also ranked as one of the top 10 schools statewide that saw the most success at the fourth grade level. Head of School Thomas S. Martin said he was extremely proud of his school as a whole, both students and staff.
"What we do here is inquiry-based instruction," Martin said. "We want kids to demonstrate what they know as opposed to just sitting down and taking a test. It's been so gratifying to see the students do so well, great to see that what we do here is paying off."
Monument Elementary yielded a 57 percent proficiency rate among its 21 fourth-grade students tested, a fairly significant improvement from last year's proficiency total of 39 percent.
Only 27 percent of the 55 fourth grade students tested at Molly Stark Elementary School ranked "proficient" this year, a sure drop from a 40 percent proficiency ranking in 2012.
Seventy-three percent of Molly Stark fourth-graders were deemed to be "partially proficient" or "substantially below proficient" in the subject area this year, a drop in 13 percentage points from last year's 60 percent cumulative total. This number has Principal Donna Mackenzie King concerned, but not discouraged.
"We certainly weren't thrilled with the numbers," she said. "We are certainly looking to see what particular areas the students struggled with."
Mackenzie King said two Molly Stark teachers, fourth and fifth grade, are already making strides toward student improvement, both having recently completed a yearlong science training.
"I hope that what they have learned will have an impact on the students over time," she said.
Bennington Elementary School Principal James Law did not deny that the now fifth graders struggled with the assessment.
"This is something we definitely need to work on and improve on next year," he said.
Last year, only 39 percent of the school's fourth grade students ranked as "proficient." This year, the number was even lower, with only 22 percent of Bennington Elementary fourth-graders falling into the "proficient" category.
Pownal Elementary yielded the lowest fourth-grade science assessment scores this year, with a whopping 70 percent of its fourth graders scoring below proficient; a mere 30 percent of the 33 students administered the test scored in the "proficient" category.
Principal Todd Phillips said the school has seen a fairly stagnant trend in this test's scores over the years, but noted that improvement is certainly on the faculty's agenda.
This Thursday, Philips will attend a workshop known as the Science Standards Workshop for Principals at Manchester Elementary/Middle School.
He hopes to gain valuable information at the workshop, which will be run by Vermont Agency of Education representatives, that he can subsequently pass on to teachers at his school.
"I hope to get more information on how to get our students to produce better on these assessments," Phillips said.
Shaftsbury Elementary fourth-graders essentially broke even this year, with 50 percent of the students scoring as proficient and 50 percent scoring below proficient.
Statewide, this year's results indicated that 47 percent of fourth-graders in Vermont scored as proficient or higher in science, a score six percentage points lower than last year's level.
For a full list of NECAP science assessment results, visit the Vermont Agency of Education's website at http://education.vermont.gov and click on "Data & Reports."
Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @bethconkey.