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Testing in Vermont: An Overview

A GreatSchools guide to standardized tests

By GreatSchools Staff

Although test results are only one measure of student achievement, they have become increasingly important in assessing student learning. In 2008-2009 Vermont used the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP, pronounced "knee cap") to test students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 in reading and math, and in grades 5, 8 and 11 in writing. The NECAP was administered to grade 11 students for the first time in fall 2007. Students in grade 2 were evaluated in early reading performance using the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA). These tests are standards-based, which means they measure specific skills defined for each grade by the state of Vermont.

How are the tests scored?

NECAP and DRA results show the level of proficiency a student demonstrates in each of the subject areas tested. Students taking the NECAP are rated at one of four performance levels: substantially below proficient, partially proficient, proficient, and proficient with distinction. The goal is for all students to score at or above the proficient level.

Students taking the DRA are rated at one of five performance levels: little evidence of achievement, below the standard, nearly achieved the standard, achieved the standard, and achieved the standard with honors. The goal is for all students to score at or above the state standard.

Which results are included on GreatSchools profiles?

Only NECAP results are included on GreatSchools profiles. The results for all elementary and middle school grades are combined and displayed as Elementary & Middle School results. Grade 11 results are displayed as High School results. For each subject, the combined percentage of students scoring at or above proficient is displayed.

GreatSchools also displays subgroup results to show how different groups of students are scoring in comparison to the overall student population in a given grade and subject. The subgroups are identified by the Vermont Department of Education; if there are fewer than 10 students in a particular group in a school, data is not reported for that group.

Why do the tests matter?

Vermont uses assessment results to hold each school accountable for improving student performance. Every school must use the state assessment results, along with local data, to write an action plan that identifies the school's weaknesses and outlines a plan for improvement. Schools evaluated as low performing by the accountability system receive help from the state in developing action plans and content assistance for teachers.

It is important to be aware of both your child's score on the assessments and the overall score for her school. If your child scores below the standards, contact the teacher to discuss getting additional assistance, and to find out how you can support your child's learning at home.

If the school's overall scores are low, ask what steps the school is taking to raise achievement levels for all students, and what you as a parent can do to help. If your child is in a failing school, ask what your options are for transferring and obtaining supplemental services.

What changes to the tests are planned for the future?

Vermont will introduce NECAP science tests in grades 4, 8 and 11 in May 2008.

A few parting words

Although test results can be an indicator of what's happening in the classroom, they don't tell you everything about the quality of a particular school. Always look at more than one measure when judging school performance and visit in person before making any final assessment.

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