Vermont Education Secretary Blasts Standardized Testing

Vermont’s education secretary is now on record of being a staunch critic of standardized testing.  Rebecca Holcombe does not like the fact that the tests have so much influence when it comes to rating teachers and schools.

This is not be the goal of Vermont education, according to her.  The goal should be “well-educated Vermonters who can thrive in the workplace, and thrive in college, and thrive in their communities”.

Molly Walsh of the Burlington Free Press writes that the Vermont Education Board has urged Holcombe to investigate school accountability and begin to move toward a system that is not dependent on “extensive standardized testing”.

The board released a five-page resolution that attacked the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and included statements supporting national research which shows that there is too much focus on standardized testing, which has caused a narrowing of the curriculum; a trend toward “teaching to the test”; the watering-down of the love of learning; has caused more students to leave school; and had generally undermined the school climate.

This statement was issued about two weeks after state officials had been informed that 97% of Vermont schools missed the NCBL federal performance goals.  In 2002, this education reform was begun and required that students in grades 3-8, along with one grade of high school, be tested in reading and writing.  The purpose was to bring all students to the proficiency level by this year.  Most states missed the mark.

On various other education milestones, Vermont performs near the top of the scale, but high school graduation rates in the state have not translated to high gains in the rate of college graduation rates.  The federal requirements are in addition Vermont state’s requirement of testing in writing and science in grades four, eight, and one grade in high school.  Holcombe does not want to change this requirement.

“Parents need multiple measures to see how their children are doing, and they need to ask what scores are really saying,” said Holcombe. “And also ask, what are the other things that we care about?”

Holcombe wrote a commentary for the Vermont Journalism Trust.  Her main points included:

• In 2013, the federal Education Department released a study that showed the performance of US states students as compared to students in 47 countries.  Vermont was ranked seventh in eighth-grade math and fourth-grade science.

• Vermont has the best graduation rate in the US and ranks second in “child well-being”.

• Vermont does need to establish a different approach for students who live in poverty.

• Vermont is one of only five states that did not apply for a waiver to be released from the NCLB assessment, because a waiver required that standardized test scores would be used to grade teacher performance.

• Federal policies do not fit well with Vermont’s unique nature.

According to Mitch Wertlieb and Melody Bodette, reporters for Vermont Public Radio, Holcombe believes that the achievement gap begins in pre-kindergarten, and, therefore, universal Pre-K is crucial.  She also in support of:

• Partnering with parents to assist them in providing support, enrichment, and learning at home.

• Improving access to nutrition and health care to lessen the profound gaps that exist when low-income students begin preschool.

• Targeting after school programs and summer programming for children who do not have the advantage of camp, Lego robotics, and so forth, during the summer.

There were eight schools in the state that managed to make adequate yearly progress.  That was because they were exempted from review based on their agreement to field-test the new Smarter Balance assessment the state will begin to use in the 2014-2015 school year, says Molly Walsh of the Burlington Free Press.