Vermont schools eager to try new standardized tests


MONTPELIER -- Student test scores in Vermont could drop when more rigorous standards take effect and students start taking a new education test in 2015.

In neighboring New York, student test scores based on the new standards plummeted. And while Vermont typically rates high among the 50 states in student performance, officials don't know how the state will do two years from now.

"Frankly, I don't have my hopes out there that our kids are going to do better because we've adopted the (new standards) because they are more rigorous standards, but maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised," said Michael Hock, Vermont state assessment director.

Officials say the Common Core standards are designed to better equip young people for careers or college; Vermont schools are making changes to prepare students for them and the test.

Mount Mansfield Union High School has tweaked an algebra course and will make changes to its geometry instruction in preparation for the new standards. Teachers in the Barre Supervisory Union have taken a practice test, so they'll know what will be expected of their students. And 27 schools will try out the new test next spring before all the state schools administer it beginning in 2015.

The new education standards, called Common Core, have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia despite some criticism that they are tantamount to a national curriculum. The standards were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Vermont has accepted the new standards, and many schools are already working hard to make adjustments to their curriculum and teaching, officials say.

"I think we're excited for a lot of what the Common Core provides us in terms of direction is how to really move students forward and have students have a more ... rigorous and relevant experience," said John Pandolfo, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment at the Barre Supervisory Union school district.

At Mount Mansfield, Principal Michael Weston said the mathematics courses, for example, are being revised along Common Core guidelines, which defines what students should learn and by when.

"Does it require some adjustments? Yes," Weston said. "Is it going to require us to go back to the drawing board? Sure. When the test comes out might we stumble at first? You know that's what we read about some states who've already been tested ... Might we start there? Yes.

"But I do think when you look at them just at face value they're rigorous and they prepare kids at least in our mind to be successful when they leave us and that's sort of the goal," he said.

Pandolfo said the new test, designed to assess a student's reasoning and critical thinking, should show over time if the Common Core standards are honing those mental skills.

"While we're not all talking about teaching to the test, what we're really saying is ... the test really does assess students for reasoning and offers us a way to really be able to teach them to think better and think more critically," he said.

Vermont is part of a coalition of 25 states calling themselves the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium that has created the test Vermont will use in two years. That test will replace the New England Common Assessment Program test currently in use. Another 19 states known as the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers have created another test.

The Smarter Balanced test is computer-based. Eighty Vermont schools applied to be one of the 27 to try it out next spring.


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