Editor's note. Revisions have been made to include Woodford Hollow's math scores that were the highest in the SVSU, and to correct proficiency rates in Dorset, Arlington and Readsboro.
BENNINGTON - Significant gains made by Vermont elementary and middle school students in writing were not mirrored locally, where most schools continue to perform below state average on standardized tests. Results from the 2012 New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) exams in reading, math and writing taken by students last fall were released Tuesday by the Vermont Agency of Education and show improvement in writing but little change in math and reading comprehension.
Students in grades three through eight and grade 11 are tested in reading and math each fall, while writing exams are administered to students in grades five, eight and 11. Fifth grade writing proficiency rates increased from 46 to 51 percent in the most recent results and there were greater gains among eighth graders in writing as 66 percent scored at least proficient, compared to 59 percent the prior year. High school juniors were 46 percent proficient, compared to 48 the previous year.
In Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union just North Bennington Graded School, with 60 percent of students proficient, and Shaftsbury Elementary, with 53 percent proficient, scored above the state average in writing.
Many SVSU schools fared worse in writing than in previous years; however, the students taking the exam each year are not the same, so comparing one year to the next can be misleading. Making the comparison more difficult is that a teacher strike in 2011 interrupted tests that fall, causing many schools not to complete administering the exams.
Kathi Marcoux, curriculum director for SVSU, said the results are frustrating because she knows the many good things that are happening in the areas schools. The results also show a high percentage of students who scored "partially proficient," meaning they are on the cusp of proficiency.
"We seem to have more students in writing who instead of scoring a three scored a two, and two is almost there," Marcoux said. Less than one-third of students scored proficient in writing at all three of Bennington's elementary schools, which had administrators scratching their heads after gains had been made a couple of years ago. The next step, Marcoux said, will be to work with principals and teachers to go over the writing prompt on the NECAP and determine why students got tripped up - so teachers may focus instruction in that area.
In the county, some of the highest results in writing were at Dorset School, where fifth graders were 60 percent proficient and eighth graders were 90 percent proficient, and Burr and Burton Academy where 61 percent of juniors scored proficient.
Statewide elementary and middle school proficiency rates in reading went down one percentage point from 74 to 73 percent. Reading results at the high school level were the exact opposite, increasing from 73 to 74 percent proficient.
Mount Anthony Union High School students were 74 percent proficient in reading, a big improvement from 63 percent in 2010.
Other local schools saw reading scores fall, including Molly Stark Elementary, where 49 percent of students scored proficient after 67 percent of those tested two years ago were proficient. "I was disappointed. I thought we would have done better on our reading scores because I feel we have an awful lot in place," Principal Donna MacKenzie King said. "We continue to look at our grouping of kids on a regular basis. We are doing vertical teams of a classroom teacher, reading specialist, and a special educator, looking at individual students to determine where they are."
Even prior to the NECAP results the school's literacy team was discussing ways to improve instruction to students who continue falling behind their peers. "Reading instruction continues to be a top priority at Molly," MacKenzie King said.
The principal did not want to make excuses for the results, however, she said there are a number of circumstances many students at Molly Stark face that can make learning difficult. Molly Stark has one of the highest transient populations, a very high turnover rate of students and has a shortage of ancillary space at the school - which has led to instruction being given on the stage and in overcrowded rooms. This year alone there have been nearly 70 new students and 40 children who have moved out of the school, MacKenzie King said. The transitions make learning difficult not only for those students, but also for classmates.
Some of the highest elementary and middle school reading proficiency rates in the county were at Arlington Memorial Middle School (77 percent proficient), Dorset School (85), Readsboro Elementary (85), Sunderland Elementary (84), and North Bennington Graded School (81). Vermont math scores at the elementary and middle school level were unchanged with 65 percent of students scoring proficient. Math results for high school students increased from 36 to 38 percent proficient.
"High school mathematics continues to be high on the agency's and governor's list of priorities. While we only saw a slight increase in high school math scores, our educators are serious about improving our students' understanding and passion for math," Secretary of Education Armando Vilaseca said in a release. "If Vermont's students are going to be ready to continue their education beyond high school and be successful in the 21st century, they're going to need stronger math skills and knowledge. A 2 percent increase is not enough." At MAUHS, 31 percent of juniors scored proficient in math.
The only SVSU schools to score higher than the state average in math were Woodford Hollow at 75 percent and NBGS at 73 percent, however most SVSU elementary schools showed improvement from recent years, according to Marcoux.
Some of the other top math scores in the county came from Readsboro Elementary (72 percent), Dorset School (79), and Sunderland Elementary (68).
While SVSU NECAP results were not as high as hoped, Marcoux said is important for people to remember the NECAP assessment is just one of many gauges schools use to offer a snapshot at how students are doing. "It's only one assessment to let us know how our students are doing, but it's the public one," she said.
Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi