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For years Vermonters have consoled themselves with the fact that even though they pay the fifth highest per child cost of education in the country (over $15,000 per child per year), the education our children are receiving is “first-rate, high quality, one of the best in the country,” etc.). Four years ago, and ironically on the same day that 11th-graders were taking the NECAP exams (whose disastrous results were subsequently announced), Speaker Symington said “…Time and again, the performance of our schools ranks among the highest in the nation…we should all appreciate the tremendous work that our students, educators and school boards are doing to make our schools some of the best in the nation.”
The newest results of the eleventh-grade NECAP math and writing exam expose the horrifying reality of the last four years: Without mincing words, the majority of our 11th-graders have been and remain basically semi-literate writers and have not learned basic algebra or geometry. This year, 66 percent of Harwood 11th-graders scored below “proficient” in math and 54 percent scored below “proficient” in writing. Compared to four years ago, the writing score remained approximately the same (54 vs. 52 percent students less than proficient), while math scores continued to drop (66 vs. 54 percent students less than proficient). Four years ago, after publication of these results, the then commissioner Cate said, “We can’t let this stand. We have to figure out what’s going on and deal with it.”
Fast-forward four years. In response to the publication of last week’s results, current commissioner Armando Vilaseca says, “What is most striking about these results is the significant drop in math achievement once our students reach high school. In over 90 percent of our high schools, fewer than half the students scored proficient in math and science. We are currently surveying high schools to find out what math courses students are taking and when in their high school career they are taking them, to ensure learning is aligned with expectations for graduation. I plan to do the same for science in the near future….” Déjà vu; after four years of declining math scores the commissioner and the Department of Education still can’t figure out what’s going on, let alone articulate a plan for remediation? In view of the yearly platitudes and lip service paid by the DOE and without any kind of action being taken or even identifying the root causes, I urge the commissioner and others responsible in the DOE to resign or be fired. Half a generation of Vermont children have already paid the price, and for them it is too late. They have lost any interest or aptitude for basic math and writing, thereby foregoing most professional opportunities in STEM-related and other professions.
Marc Lanser lives in Fayston.