This year, The Mettawee School, which serves students in Rupert and Pawlet, joined 23 other schools around the state which were unable to meet proficiency goals determined by statewide educational assessment tests mandated by the federal "No Child Left Behind" law, according to data released by the state's Department of Education on Monday, Aug. 6.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind statute, 100 percent of public school students are supposed to qualify as "proficient" in math and reading skills by 2014. All told, 215 schools around the state - some 73 percent of all public schools and almost exactly the same number as last year - were identified as needing school improvement in one or more areas, according to the state's Department of Education.
The Mettawee School missed its goals in math performance among students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. Some 50 percent of the school's students fall into that category, said Mettawee principal Brooke DuBonis.
"We are in the process right now of analyzing the data from the state," she said. "We are taking this information very seriously, and we are planning on continuing our work in the area of math. We are very committed to the students and want to make sure all
Being cited for missing AYP goals for a first time carries no formal consequences, according to the state's Department of Education. Only when a school misses its targets for two consecutive years are they identified for needing improvement and must take remedial actions in response.
"The consequences of that are that you have to create a plan to deal with the issue," said Daniel French, the superintendent for the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union, which includes Mettawee, Manchester, Currier, Sunderland and Dorset schools. "We're always engaged in planning.... that process just becomes more formal. At this point, it's creating a plan to look at test scores and figure out where to make an impact."
Manchester Elementary Middle School and Currier Memorial School in Danby were identified last year for being unable to meet all their proficiency goals. Schools must get passing grades, determined through the annual New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP, in several categories, which include special education students, students who speak English as a Second Language and students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. Missing the target in any one of those areas, or comprehensively, as an entire school, means the school is flagged as needing improvement.
Currier and MEMS students did not reach proficiency levels in reading and math, according to the state's Department of Education. The other two public schools in the Bennington Rutland Supervisory Union, Sunderland Elementary School and The Dorset School, avoided being identified as a result of inadequate test scores.
If schools continue to post subpar results for four years, they are recognized as being in need of "corrective action," which prompts a more intensive remedial program with greater involvement by educational officials from outside the school.
Adequate yearly progress goals as measured by the NECAP tests, which are taken by students in Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, only impact public schools. Independent schools, such as Burr and Burton Academy, are required to administer the NECAP tests but aren't held to AYP improvement standards, French said.
On Tuesday, the Bennington Banner reported that Arlington Memorial Middle and High School as well as Fisher elementary School in Arlington did not meet their AYP goals for a second time, putting both schools into a first year of needing school improvement.
At the Manchester School board's meeting Tuesday, French outlined what MEMS would have to undertake to comply with being in a first year of needing school improvement.
The main consequence is that a school improvement team will be designated to oversee a review or professional development time and the direction of resources to ensure the improvement plan leads to better student academic outcomes. This team will include the school's principal, a reading/language arts teacher, a math teacher and a special educator. Written notification of the school's identification must also be provided to all parents of MEMS students by the first day of the new school year, according to a document distributed at the school board meeting.
The No Child Left Behind Act, passed by Congress in 2002, marked an expansion of federal involvement in education. The law has been highly controversial over the past decade, as educators have struggled to meet the ever rising standards imposed by the act, while expressing concern the legislation forces "teaching to the test" and unfairly labels schools as "failing" based on a single set of "high stakes" assessment tests, rather than broader indicators.
An overhaul of the Act is still, however, stalled in Congress, and in an election year, chances of meaningful changes are remote this year, French said. "We're left implementing a law that everyone knows isn't going to work," he said.
However, by 2015, the assessment process will change as Vermont schools transition away from the NECAP tests to a new system known as the "Common Core," which have so far been adopted by 44 states around the nation.
In the meantime, though, the state education department will continue to work with schools to meet academic standards and determine what is working, and what isn't, according to a statement that accompanied the release of the AYP data,
"We face a challenge as we transition to new standards, new assessments, and new accountability systems," said Deputy Education Commissioner John Fischer. "We will focus our support and interventions in schools with these transitions in mind."