Some students struggle on state science exam

ADDISON COUNTY — According to the second batch of New England Common Assessments Program (NECAP), Vermont students are still struggling to meet science proficiency standards. Addison County students, for the most part, follow statewide trends.
Results for the NECAP science test, which was given to students in fourth-, eighth- and 11th-grade statewide last spring, were published last week. Statewide, 52 percent of fourth-graders who took the test last spring met or exceeded the proficiency mark, up 4 percent from last year’s numbers. Twenty-five percent of eighth-graders were proficient, down 1 percent from 2008, and 27 percent of 11th-graders were deemed proficient, up from 25 percent in 2008.
In Addison County, roughly 50 percent of fourth-graders earned science scores at or above proficiency standards. On average, 32 percent of eighth-graders demonstrated proficiency, and local high schools averaged 27.5 percent proficiency among eleventh-graders.
Tallying the best scores in the county, 74 percent of fourth-graders at the Orwell Village School scored at or above standard.
But Orwell Principal Sue DeCarolis said it’s important for schools to look at students’ scores over time, particularly at a small school.
“The more students you’re testing, the more confidence you can have in the performance score,” she said.
Still, DeCarolis said the scores are ultimately helpful for teachers and administrators, who can make changes in the curriculum over time based on test results. For instance, using four years’ worth of data from the math and reading sections of the NECAP, which are given to students every year after third-grade, the Orwell Village School has put into place rigorous reading programs targeted at students who struggled on the exam.
Since then, reading scores have improved 13 percent, DeCarolis said.
It’s still difficult to know how science scores, taken over the course of a few years, will influence the curriculum at the elementary school. But already, DeCarolis said, the school is adapting. After noticing that students had a hard time on an “inquiry science” portion of the exam in 2008, the school began using National Science Foundation kits because of the way the kits stress those skills.
After working hard to achieve gains in reading and math, the principal said, “now we need to step up to the plate and put due diligence to science.”
The NECAP has its weaknesses, of course. DeCarolis criticized the standardized tests for not better affirming the strengths and achievements of some students, particularly ones struggling with documented learning disabilities.
Ultimately, she said, the goal of raising test scores is secondary to the goal of increasing students’ proficiency, which sometimes is best measured by multiple tools instead of one assessment.
“Yes, we want to raise the test scores,” DeCarolis said. “But you really want to raise them with the idea that kids are being more competent.”
Download NECAP science results for Addison County schools

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