MANCHESTER - The Adequate Yearly Progress report released by the Vermont Agency of Education shows low scores, in either, or both, reading and math, in 73 percent of the state. Only 81 schools met the assessment's benchmark, while 219 schools did not.

The numerical score that determines if a school has met the benchmark or not is different between high schools and middle schools; high schools have a graduation requirement that is dependent on a student's score.

"Over half of the schools made AYP this year in reading," said Education Secretary Armando Vilaseca in a press release. "However we continue to see struggles with math proficiencies and our free and reduced lunch population. We feel it's important to celebrate the good work that the schools are doing, but also to recognize that we need to figure out how to close these achievement gaps."

These methods of assessment were created in 2001 as a part of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). It is made up of results from the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) and Vermont Alternate Assessment Portfolio (VTAAP). By the 2014-2015 school year, NCLB will hold all schools to a 100 percent proficiency level.

Of the schools in the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union, Flood Brook, Dorset and Sunderland met the target scores; Currier Memorial, Manchester Elementary and Middle School, and Mettawee Community School did not.

Currier Memorial's math and reading scores did not meet AYP in overall groups and white students; MEMS did not meet math scores in overall students, free/reduced lunch students, students with disabilities, and white students, and they did not meet reading scores in overall students, free/reduced lunch students, and white students; Mettawee did not meet the scores for reading and math by overall students, free/reduced lunch students, and white students.

Outside of the BRSU, Arlingon Memorial High School and Fisher School, part of the Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union (BVSU), did not reach the target scores.

"At Arlington Memorial, we are committed to providing great instruction, and we understand that we will be held accountable to doing just that," said Christopher Barnes, Prinicpal at Arlington Memorial High School. "I intend on committing professional Development time to the teachers to ensure that they will be fully prepared to deliver appropriate and rigorous instruction based on the new standards."

"We're always readjusting our curriculum," Superintendent of the BVSU, Karen Gallese. "We're improving instruction and trying to bring up scores... we're starting a specialized reading program called Fundations... and math courses were added to increase skills [in areas where students struggled]." As a result of not meeting the target scores, 214 of the 219 Vermont schools have been identified as needing school improvement or corrective action; these are programs in which the Vermont Agency of Education works with supervisory unions and school improvement teams to help increase the number of students who meet or exceed the standards.

Currier Middle School and MEMS have been identified as schools in the second year of school improvement status, while Mettawee has been identified as a school in its first year of school improvement.

As a year-one or year-two school improvement, the school will be assigned a supervisory union school improvement team to "direct and monitor the development and implementation of the school's continuous improvement or restructuring plan," according to the education agency's web site. This team must include, at minimum, the superintendent, curriculum coordinator, special education director, and school principal.

In addition to the supervisory team, each school will be designated a school improvement team, which will include, at a minimum, the principal, a lead reading/language arts teacher, a lead math teacher, and a special educator.

Those in year one must also utilize Green Mountain Star, a web-based continuous improvement tool and resource center for school improvement. Twenty-one schools are not making the AYP for the first time and have not been given a formal status regarding School Improvement or Corrective Action.

By the 2014-2015 school year, the NECAP tests will be replaced by the Smarter Balanced Assessment tests. The new tests will cover English/Language Arts and math, while the NECAP test will still be used for science.

"We're looking forward to the change [in assessment tests]," said Gallese. "We applied to be a school to take the new test in the spring." Schools can apply to the Agency of Education to field-test the new assessment in the spring of 2014; those who do will have their identification within the AYP frozen, as they will be taking a different assessment. Once all of the schools are integrated within the same test, their status will be reinstated.

"I don't yet know what to expect with Smarter Balance in terms of the challenges it may pose," said Barnes. "However, I believe that if you are teaching to the standards and expecting certain competencies from the students, they will be prepared for the test."

BRSU Superintendent Dan French explained that the new tests will be considered "adaptive" assessment, meaning that as a student answers correctly the test will become harder, and likewise if they answer incorrectly the questions will become easier. However, French still believed that even with these new features, there still may be issues in reaching the benchmark and properly assessing the students.

"It is a legitimate concern," said French, who explained that the tests have already been piloted in New York state and the performance had not been as high as they hoped. "[The assessments are] a failed system and has not improved schools. It's a good predictor of poverty; poor schools get caught up in the system... there is not much educational value... it's a waste of money."

Melody Troy, principal of Sunderland Elementary School explained that she applied to be a field-test school for the assessment, but they were not accepted. However, she explained that when the time does come, they are prepared for any change in difficulty.

"If we're truly doing our job as educators, it will all even out," she said. "I don't believe in teaching to a test... you have to have academic growth. I'll just keep doing my best. Anybody can be in our place [passing the AYP], and anyone can be on the other list."

French explained that when Metawee was first identified as a schoool that needed improvement, they received their results in August from the last October. They began to plan how to resolve these issues and raise subsequent scores.

"Before we could funnyy plan, the next test came along in October, then we had to wait another year to see those results."

In the meantime, schools in the BRSU have been taking the MAP tests, a nationally-given test that is taken three times a year and produces growth data for each student. It is also an adaptive test, and it is administered on a computer; both of these are also components of the upcoming Smarter Balance tests.