Wilmington resident Richard Sugarman brought the contents of a Web site listing the “worst 10 high schools in Vermont” to the attention of board members. The school, he noted, was listed as the third worst high school in the state. “And that’s right off the Internet,” Sugarman said as he handed out printed screen shots. “That’s really the bad point. This is out there on the Internet.”
“I think the question is, how do they rank them,” said TVHS Principal Frank Spencer.
The site, www.schooldigger.com, calculated the result based on the school’s 2009-10 combined NECAP scores in math and reading. For that year, TVHS was ranked number 60, but using the same criteria for 2008-09, the school is ranked number 32, and it was listed at number 42 a year earlier.
Board member Jack Kincella said that NECAP results weren’t an adequate measure of the school’s overall success. “As we’ve come to realize,” he said, “there’s a lot more to it than just test scores.”
But Sugarman pointed out that NECAP scores were the measure used by the state department of education to identify failing schools under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. He noted that based on earlier scores, the schools above and below TVHS on the list in his screen shot had been identified as failing. “It looks real bad from my point of view,” he said, “or anyone that sees this site.”
Sugarman handed out a press release from the Vermont Department of Education in which 10 schools were identified as “persistently low achieving schools.” According to the press release, the state is required to identify 10 schools in order to receive $8 million in funding under the terms of a federal stimulus program.
To receive a portion of the funds, the schools identified under the program must be willing to follow one of four models for school improvement defined by the U.S. Department of Education.
But also in the release, education commissioner Armando Vilaseca appears to suggest the schools on the list are not “failing” their students. “The schools identified still provide a quality education for the majority of their students,” he said. “In any other state, these schools would not have been identified.”
Spencer said he and his staff were continually working to address educational gaps suggested by NECAP test results – making changes in some cases based on the analysis of individual test questions or groups of questions. “One of the things we’re doing is working with sophomores, who will be taking the test next year, now to identify the specific needs of those students.”
He asked Sugarman to visit the school and see what they have done to address math scores.
But Spencer also said the score of one group of students, taken in one year, does not reflect the educational quality of the whole school.
“Have you ever thought about going up to the schools that are scoring high to see what they’re doing?” asked Sugarman.
“Yep,” said Spencer, before describing a recent trip with math teachers.