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Local students perform poorly on NECAP math exam

BURLINGTON Vermonts school officials might want to sweep the results of the 2007 11th grade NECAP math proficiency test under an ultra-thick shag carpet. The NECAP exam, short for New England Common Assessment Program, is an annual series of reading, writing, mathematics and science achievement tests which were developed with the New Hampshire and Rhode Island departments of education. The test is part of the national bipartisan No Child Left Behind law that calls for all students to become more proficient in reading and math by 2014. Statewide, 11th graders performed poorly in math on the NECAP exam issued last fall. Chittenden Countys 11th graders didnt fare much better in the math portion of the exam. NECAP 11th grade test results for high schools in the Times-Sentinel circulation area: BHS (257 students) Reading: Proficient with Distinction: 16 percent; Proficient: 39 percent; Partially Proficient: 23 percent; Substantially below proficient: 21 percent. Math: Proficient with Distinction: 2 percent; Proficient: 28 percent; Partially Proficient: 20 percent; Substantially below proficient: 50 percent. Writing: Proficient with Distinction: 6 percent; Proficient: 35 percent; Partially Proficient: 36 percent; Substantially below proficient: 23 percent. CVUHS No. 15 (319 students) Reading: Proficient with Distinction: 32 percent; Proficient: 48 percent; Partially Proficient: 11 percent; Substantially below proficient: 8 percent. Math: Proficient with Distinction: 4 percent; Proficient: 42 percent; Partially Proficient: 22 percent; Substantially below proficient: 31 percent. Writing: Proficient with Distinction: 6 percent; Proficient: 49 percent; Partially Proficient: 34 percent; Substantially below proficient: 11 percent. Colchester H.S. (190 students) Reading: Proficient with Distinction: 18 percent; Proficient: 50 percent; Partially Proficient: 21 percent; Substantially below proficient: 11 percent. Math: Proficient with Distinction: 3 percent; Proficient: 22 percent; Partially Proficient: 30 percent; Substantially below proficient: 45 percent. Writing: Proficient with Distinction: 4 percent; Proficient: 39 percent; Partially Proficient: 48 percent; Substantially below proficient: 9 percent. Essex Community Education Center U.H. (334 students) Reading: Proficient with Distinction: 24 percent; Proficient: 56 percent; Partially Proficient: 13 percent; Substantially below proficient: 7 percent. Math: Proficient with Distinction: 3 percent; Proficient: 41percent; Partially Proficient: 28 percent; Substantially below proficient: 28 percent. Writing: Proficient with Distinction: 6 percent; Proficient: 42 percent; Partially Proficient: 42 percent; Substantially below proficient: 10 percent. South Burlington H.S. (202 students) Reading: Proficient with Distinction: 27 percent; Proficient: 49 percent; Partially Proficient: 16 percent; Substantially below proficient: 7 percent. Math: Proficient with Distinction: 3 percent; Proficient: 38 percent; Partially Proficient: 31 percent; Substantially below proficient: 28 percent. Writing: Proficient with Distinction: 6 percent; Proficient: 39 percent; Partially Proficient: 45 percent; Substantially below proficient: 9 percent. While many local high school math results are troubling, many teachers and administrators say they are not an accurate gauge of student proficiency. In the Winter 2007-08 issue of the American Educator, published by the American Federation of Teachers, authors John Cronin, Michael Dahlin, Deborah Adkins and G. Gage Kingsbury tackle the proficiency dilemma. In an article titled The Proficiency illusion, the authors pinpoint the problem: states define student proficiency differently. The authors present their reasons why current NCLB tests, such as NECAP locally, arent working: 1. State tests vary greatly in their difficulty, 2. Differences in state proficiency cut scores can be seen in the rigor of the assessment items, 3. Standards for mathematics are generally more difficult to meet than those for reading, and 4. Reading and math tests in the upper grades are generally more difficult to pass than those in earlier grades. According to Jim Callahan, a math consultant and past principal of Mary Hogan Elementary School in Middlebury, The Vermont results of the 2007 math portion of the NECAP assessment indicates that out of 7,000-plus students, 2 percent fell in the highest category and 42 percent fell in the lowest category. The top category, says Callahan, is called Proficient with Distinctionthis means a student cannot fail more than 25 percent of the test. The last category, Substantially Below Proficient, means that you can add, but probably only on your fingers. In MUHS, 4 percent of 11th graders were in the top category (6 students) and 32 percent (52 students) were exceptionally poor. Only the schools know the range in either category. I bet you will not see it in any report, Callahan said. So what is the cause for local 11th graders dismal performance in math? I see three possible reasons, said Callahan. 1. What is being assessed is not being taught. 2. Students just dont care. 3. The test is too difficult. Regarding the third point, the test is difficult. I have downloaded the 21 released questions and even I found most of the questions are difficult, he said. Schoolboard members of our high schools need to ask state officials to show how they decided that the NECAP test questions were fair, Callahan said. They also need to see if the information tested was a part of the math curriculum or are they working on power standards? Finally, they should ask the 11th grade students if they took the test in a proper manner. I for one really cannot wait to pay $15,000 per student for these results if our students dont care.

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