Vt. schools report card: 73% receive failing grade

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BRATTLEBORO -- Education officials from Montpelier to Brattleboro are ready to leave No Child Left Behind, behind.

Almost three-quarters of the schools across Vermont failed to make adequate yearly progress this year after the Department of Education released the annual progress reports as required under No Child Left Behind.

The rigid federal education law raises the bar every year, and every student in the state is expected to be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

This is the final year the benchmark moved up in anticipation of 2014 and across the state 215 schools received a failing grade after giving the New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP, in October 2011.

Of the schools being marked as "in need of improvement," 101 were put on to the list for the first time.

"It is not surprising that as we get closer to the 2014 NCLB expectation of 100 percent proficiency, we will continue to see more schools not meeting AYP," said Vermont Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca. "Vermont will revise its accountability system when the reauthorization of the (federal education law) provides us with that opportunity. Our plan has always been to design a system that does not stress a single measure using a standardized test to determine our students', our schools', or our state's success in meeting standards."

The annual tests are given to all students in grades three through eight, and in grade 11.

It is the seventh year the test has been given to the students in the elementary and middle grades, and the fifth time high school students took the standardized test.

Schools that do not make AYP for two consecutive years in the same category enter school improvement status.

Even schools such as Brattleboro's Academy School, which has shown measured, steady progress over the years, was identified again this year for failing to improve the test scores for all of its students above the benchmark set by No Child Left Behind.

"Schools like Academy have made significant progress, and we do not look at that progress as failure," Windham Southeast Superintendent Ron Stahley said about Monday's release. "We are looking at what we are doing to help and what we are doing to reach every student. We are not concerned with an arbitrary number."

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The Windham County schools that did make AYP this year include elementary schools in Dover, Halifax, Jamaica, Marlboro, Saxtons River and Windham.

No Child Left Behind, and the state, use a complex formula to take the NECAP tests scores and determine how schools have been able to move their students forward.

Generally, the law says that about 80 to 85 percent of all of the children in the state should be proficient in reading and math by 2012.

That includes all children with disabilities, all children with special needs, all children from low income households and all children who speak English as a second language.

Not a single school in WSESU made AYP this year.

WSESU Curriculum Coordinator Paul Smith tracks the NECAP data closely and he said administrators are frustrated with No Child Left Behind because the same data that prove that a school is "failing" show that more students are reaching proficiency every year.

"Most of our schools are moving up," he said. "They are just not moving up fast enough."

Academy, for instance, missed meeting its benchmark by seven points and therefore will enter its fourth year of corrective action.

Smith also said educators are frustrated because when the state's schools are compared with schools across the country, Vermont regularly falls into the top five states on national test results.

"It's an absurd situation," he said. "The same schools that rank high on the national scale, we are now saying they are in need of improvement. It makes no sense."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 279. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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