Vermont student science scores remain flat

Vermont’s science scores are in from the NECAP assessment administered last spring, and “they aren’t anything to crack champagne over,” acknowledges Michael Hock, director of educational assessment for the Department of Education.

The scores show the percent of fourth-graders scoring at proficient or higher levels remains level, while eighth-graders notched a 1 percent increase, and 11th-graders a 2 percent increase.

Vilaseca says the test is important as a diagnostic tool, and both he and Hock drew clear conclusions from the results. One area of the test in particular seems to stump students — the “Inquiry” section, which requires them to undertake a mini-research study and then interpret and explain their results.

While students across the board struggle with these literary-based questions, the scores of students from low-income backgrounds, identified as “receiving free and reduced lunches,” lagged in particular. This achievement gap becomes more pronounced among the higher grades.

Among fourth-graders, 36 percent of low-income students were proficient or higher, compared to 65 percent of their counterparts. Sixteen percent of low-income eighth-graders were proficient or higher, compared to 39 percent of their counterparts, and in the 11th grade, 15 percent of those students were proficient or higher compared to 41 percent of their counterparts.

This was the fifth year the NECAP has been administered, and the trends have remained relatively unchanged between years.

Vilaseca cited some individual success stories, such as the Academy School in Brattleboro, which raised its proficiency level from 33 percent in 2011 to 42 percent in 2012. “I’m sort of enamored of some of things they are doing,” said Vilaseca, pointing to additional tutoring opportunities, after-school programs, and expanded summer programs as measures that could be applied to raise scores at other schools.

Vilaseca also emphasized the inherent imperfections in the NECAP.

“To make determinations about the state, about a school, about teachers, about a student based on a single assessment is shortsighted.”

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Alicia Freese

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