Middlebury students’ results good as testing about to shift

MIDDLEBURY — The UD-3 school board on Tuesday got a glimpse of how the Middlebury-area student population is performing under current state and local measuring sticks — and got a preview of how students will be gauged under a new, national assessment program that will be in place come 2015.
At issue is the “Common Core State Standards (CCSS)” system that within three years will supplant Vermont’s current standardized testing for students through the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP).
Since 2005, Vermont has been among a handful of states participating in NECAP, a series of reading, writing, math and science achievement tests administered annually to students in grades 3 through 11. Reading and math are assessed in grades 3-8 and 11; writing is assessed in grades 5, 8 and 11; and science is assessed in grades 4, 8 and 11. The reading, math and writing tests are administered each year in October.
The CCSS system, adopted thus far by 45 of the 50 states, is currently being developed to help American students better compete with their international peers, many of whom have been outperforming U.S. learners in a variety of disciplines.
Carol Fenimore, assistant superintendent for the Addison Central Supervisory Union schools, said it has become apparent that U.S. students are being taught differently than their peers in other industrialized nations. National education officials have been seeking ways to make U.S. students more competitive when they graduate from high school.
“There is an effort to make sure that U.S. diplomas means students are able to compete globally,” Fenimore told UD-3 school directors. The UD-3 board governs Middlebury Union Middle School and Middlebury Union High School.
Fenimore explained CCSS will require students to shift their learning focus more toward:
•  Greater use of “higher order” thinking skills.
•  Greater ability to process text and learn from text.
•  Higher, faster and stronger cognitive processing of information.
•  More independent thought and self-direction.
•  The ability to work with novel situations.
“It’s going to be more demanding of them,” Fenimore said, noting students will be expected to find, assemble and cogently apply information rather than simply memorize it.
She added the CCSS system will assume that “all students will go on to some sort of post-secondary education.”
Board members listened to Fenimore’s presentation and promised to stay in tune with the transition to CCSS. While the switch is still some years away, UD-3 faculty and curriculum managers are already laying the groundwork for adoption of CCSS.
“I would think that employers would be ecstatic about the change,” said board member Tom Hughes of Middlebury.
Board member Jerry Shedd of Ripton voiced some concerns about CCSS.
“We don’t want to completely retreat from content education,” Shedd said, adding he hoped CCSS would not de-emphasize the study of classic literature.
Fenimore said she is confident that won’t happen.
“It does not ask you to disregard fiction. It’s more of a mix,” she replied to Shedd.
District officials said they will learn more in the coming years about CCSS’s potential impact on school budgets and the extent to which it will serve all of the student population — including those from less affluent homes and who have learning challenges.
In the meantime, the seven Middlebury-area communities served by UD-3 can be happy that many students are doing well based on current state and local academic standards.
School administrators presented the board with a cornucopia of statistics covering the past few years revealing such facts as:
•  A sizeable majority of MUHS 11th-grade students continue to exceed state standards in NECAP reading and math testing. Students are not performing as well in the writing category.
•  The percentage of MUMS students scoring “proficient” or “proficient with distinction” in the NECAP science test rose from 42 percent in 2010 to 58 percent in 2011.
•  MUHS students have for more than a decade consistently out-performed their Vermont and U.S. peers in the SAT test scores for writing, critical reading and math.
•  84 percent of last year’s MUHS seniors applied to college or university, and 81.5 percent (137 out of 168 total graduates) chose to attend post-secondary schools. Some members of the class of 2012 are attending universities or colleges that include Yale, Wellesley, Vassar, Middlebury, McGill, Tufts, Williams, Wesleyan and Vermont.
•  MUHS offers nine Advanced Placement (AP) courses this year, involving a combined total of 210 students.
•  The MUHS graduation rate currently stands at around 96 percent.
Not all the news is rosy, however. MUHS principal Bill Lawson noted this year’s incoming student count stands at 619, down from 658 last year, and forecasts call for a continuing decline. The ACSU has a study committee that is developing ideas on how schools could share resources to more efficiently serve a declining student population.
“The challenge is that we are a comprehensive high school offering a lot of opportunities for students,” Lawson said, noting it may be tough financially to sustain all of those offerings as enrollment declines.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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