TOWNSHEND -- Officials are crediting an increased emphasis on science, adjusted curricula and a "tremendous commitment" for dramatically boosting test scores at Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School.
It might even be that a new breakfast program has played a role.
Principal Dorinne Dorfman isn't surprised that her eighth- and 11th-grade students scored so highly on standardized science tests. But the timing came as a bit of a shock.
"I was surprised how soon it happened," Dorfman said. "I would not have been surprised if it happened in spring of 2013 or 2014."
That's because, over four previous years, no more than 18 percent of Leland & Gray's eighth-graders had achieved proficiency on science testing under the New England Common Assessment Program test, also known as NECAP.
This year, 35 percent of the school's eighth-graders achieved proficiency, better than the state average of 30 percent.
Leland & Gray juniors also showed marked improvement, reaching 44-percent proficiency on the science test. That's above the state average of 33 percent and far better than local proficiency rates that fell between 10 percent and 24 percent over the last four years.
Dorfman said the Leland & Gray School Board had set a goal of 35-percent proficiency for both grades. That's been met for the first time.
She added that the science scores tied Leland & Gray for fifth place among Vermont high schools.
The state proficiency average for low-income students was 16 percent.
"It really shows how much the teachers at Leland & Gray care about all students, and they have a belief that all students can learn at high levels," Dorfman said.
She also cited several changes that may have helped improve science test achievement:
- The Leland & Gray science department collaborated throughout last school year with Windsor-based consultant Elizabeth Mirra to "align course curricula and classroom assessments with state and national standards," Dorfman said.
But she didn't expect results so quickly.
"That takes time to germinate," Dorfman said. "It takes time to change your curriculum."
- The school board allocated more money for science education for the 2011-12 school year.
"There was an increase in science funding for equipment and supplies so students could do more labs," Dorfman said, adding that a lab period has been added in eighth grade.
- Over the month prior to testing, science teachers gave "refresher sessions" to eighth- and 11th-grade students.
- Leland & Gray teachers also "have integrated writing instruction in every subject area and every course," Dorfman said.
While students statewide struggled with the more-intensive "inquiry task" portion of science testing, Leland & Gray students performed well. Dorfman believes the school's increased and improved writing instruction is a factor.
"It takes a lot of persistence and creative thinking for students to work their way through the inquiry task," she said.
- Could a school breakfast program have played a role?
That's the question Leland & Gray staff asked when reviewing the new test scores, noting that donations in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene helped supply free breakfasts for all students through April.
"It's not as provable as a cause-and-effect is," Dorfman said. "This is more of, perhaps, a correlation."
Dorfman said the emphasis on science will continue, noting that the Leland & Gray board budgeted additional funding for staffing in the science department for this school year.
Also, the board has raised high school graduation requirements from three science credits to four.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.