Vermont Encouraged by Young Students’ Gains in Writing

Vermont has released its fall 2012 standardized test scores, and according to the Burlington Free Press, there are encouraging gains in writing. Molly Walsh reports that the rise in scores are especially optimistic among the younger groups.

Vermont is one of four states that gives the New England Common Assessment Program test. The test was developed with New Hampshire and Rhode Island in 2005, and Maine later joined its neighboring states. Reading and math proficiency are tested beginning in grade 3, through grade 8, and again in grade 11. Writing and science knowledge are both tested in grades 8 and 11, but for younger grades, science is only tested in 4th grade, and writing only in 5th. The tests are designed to go beyond multiple-choice questions, with some short-answer and extended-response questions. The science test includes some inquiry questions that require experiments or collecting data.

Scores in math and science did not increase over 2011. Vermont's Secretary of Education expressed disappointment in this less optimistic result:

"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," said Secretary of Education Armando Vilaseca in a press 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 two percent increase is not enough." Vilaseca said.

The high school scores were generally discouraging. Writing proficiency dropped slightly, while math proficiency went from 36% to 38% proficient. Reading did better; 74% of 11th graders were scored as proficient in reading.

Younger students did not present much good news in math and reading. Math proficiency has been around 65%, and that did not change this year. Reading scores are similar to the 11th grade performance, at 73%.

However, 5th grade students did better in writing. The percentage who passed at a proficiency level in 2011 was 46%, and this went up to 51% for 2012. An even greater gain came with the 8th grade tests, where proficiency went up to 66%, from a previous 59%.

State officials said they were pleased with the gains in writing.

Michael Hock, director of educational assessment at the state Education Agency, said writing is the bright spot in this year's results. "The importance of writing skills cuts across all areas of the curriculum," Hock said in a statement. "For example, we know that our most successful schools have writing programs that focus on all content areas, even math and science. The impact of these programs is consistently evident in those schools' test scores."

Although Vermont's schools hope to raise achievement in math and science, the state has an enviable graduation rate of over 90%. Its college graduation rates are also very high, and Business Journal ranks it 8th among the 50 states for educational achievement.

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