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This graph, compiled from NECAP test results, compares local high schools with the state averages in reading scores. See additional graphs on the Banner’s Facebook page. (Derek Carson)
This graph, compiled from NECAP test results, compares local high schools with the state averages in reading scores. See additional graphs on the
This graph, compiled from NECAP test results, compares local high schools with the state averages in reading scores. See additional graphs on the Banner’s Facebook page. (Derek Carson)

BENNINGTON -- The State of Vermont released the results from the Fall 2013 assessment of the New England Common Assessment Program -- the final year the program will be used to measure the effectiveness of Vermont's schools.

Vermont adopted the testing system in 2005. Approximately 45,000 students take the tests, which are designed to measure students' achievement in reading, writing, and mathematics, every year. Students in grades three through eight are tested on mathematics and reading, and students in grades five and eight are tested in writing. Students in grade 11 are tested in all three subjects. There is also a science portion of the test, which is administered in the spring.

Vermont, after this year, will begin transitioning to the Smarter Balanced Assessment system, a computer-based test that seeks to "accurately measure student progress toward college- and career-readiness," according to its website. Twenty-seven schools across Vermont -- none in the Bennington area, however -- were test schools for that program this year.

According to a press release from the Vermont Department of Education, Vermont has seen two trends in the results over the last several years -- girls tend to outperform boys in reading and writing, and the achievement gap between children from high- and low- income families continues to exist.

"What the test scores show us is that although we've made gains, we can still do better," said Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe. "In particular, we need to do better with young men from low-income backgrounds. We need to make sure they have the skills they need to thrive in the workforce or pursue post-secondary opportunities."

In a press release, the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union said that it was not surprised with the results. "Results show an expected distribution of results from all eight schools, with some high points, a few setbacks, and mostly results that mirror but fall slightly below the state averages in all areas. Results continue to show increases in performance levels as students move through the grade levels and correlate with community factors, such as economic indicators."

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 mandated performance measures in schools designed to lead to 100 percent proficiency by 2014. "Results in this final year are predictable and very few schools across the state will meet their performance targets. Improvement is still possible, and the staff and leadership at our area schools are exceeding expectations in many areas," states the release.

The release did praise Monument Elementary in Bennington, which exceeded state and district averages in almost every category, saying, "Monument Elementary School is an example of implementing a focused, multi-tiered system of support that has led to tremendous improvement in student outcomes. By focusing on student needs data, staff members organize their instructional material to fit each students needs. Their 2013 NECAP results reflect this by exceeding state averages, and moving 96 percent of their grade 5 readers into proficient or above status."

SVSU Superintendent Catherine McClure explained that Monument began implementing focused monitoring of their student a few years ago. From those results, said McClure, teachers are able to focus instruction on the areas of need for each individual student. The school has also adopted a program called flexible grouping, in which, "students actually change their classroom so teachers can really focus on that group's developmental needs. You actually move out and mix with other students at your performance level," said McClure in a phone interview Thursday.

For example, students who excel at reading will be grouped with other such students, and will be taught more advanced reading techniques. Meanwhile, students who struggle will have the opportunity for more focused attention. This grouping allows teachers to concentrate resources on areas of need, said McClure, who also noted, "What we found at Monument and Pownal [where the program has started to be implemented], what teachers are saying, is how many more books their students read."

Also praised was Molly Stark Elementary, which, according to the release, "has also demonstrated gains in moving students to higher levels of performance. While overall performance numbers may not indicate this improvement well, within performance levels there were meaningful gains, moving many students out of low level scores and into more proficient."

McClure criticized NECAP, saying that, as it simply measures the skill sets of each grade every year, you're only seeing improvement in the program, not individual students. "Because they're comparing cohort to cohort, you're not actually seeing individual progress," McClure said.

However, she did note that many parents and administrators had concerns about the Smarter Balanced system as well, such as, "Will all school districts have the technology for their students to take the test?"

McClure praised the programs the schools in the SVSU has adopted, and continues to adopt, that the they believe will help their students excel, adding that, "We have a very thorough action plan in all of our schools."

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB