(Host) Education Commissioner Richard Cate says he’s generally pleased with new student assessment results in Vermont. But Cate says the results also show that the state faces some significant challenges in the years ahead.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) The assessments are designed to measure competency levels of students in the second, fourth and tenth grade level in math and language arts. This is the fourth year that the state has conducted these assessments and it now has the ability to track trend lines in most categories.
In general, the trends are good. They show Vermont students scoring higher in virtually every category at each grade level. Students score highest in basic skill categories and not as well in more complex areas such as problem solving.
Cate says the most disappointing results are the science assessments at the fifth and eleventh grade level. The results show that less than 50 percent of these students were able to achieve the standard.
Cate says the overall results are good and that more work needs to be done to make them better:
(Cate) “I like the fact that our students generally outperform their national peers. I would say that I’m pleased that overall there’s incremental progress but I would, I was not at all content with where we are. I would say we have a long way to go. I’m pleased [that] we are where we are, but I want to work very hard to make it a whole lot better.”
(Kinzel) One area of great concern to Cate is the test scores of lower income children who qualify for the school lunch program. These scores are, on average, between 30 and 50 percent lower than students from families with higher incomes. Roughly one-third of all students at the fourth grade level fall into this category and in some towns this group of students makes up 50 percent of the entire school population.
Cate says the discrepancy in scores can be seen at the earliest grade levels. That’s why the commissioner thinks the state needs to do a better job encouraging school districts to work with private child care providers to offer enhanced pre-school programs:
(Cate) “These students, I believe the only way we’ll ever make any real change in these data is to do a lot more in early education and intercepting students long before they ever get to kindergarten. If we don’t, I don’t think there’s enough money in the world to undo how far back they are by the time they get to kindergarten, second grade, fourth grade, eighth grade. By the time they get to high school, I don’t care how good the teachers are or how much money the school has, it is very difficult by the time they get to high school to reverse that.”
(Kinzel) Cate says he hopes work with lawmakers this winter on ways to expand early education opportunities throughout the state.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.