Most Vermont 3-9th graders read below grade level

Testing data shows poor performance preceded pandemic shutdowns

by Jody Underwood

The prevailing narrative is that the pandemic shutdowns affected student performance in public schools. As seen in our prior two articles, data from the Croydon, NH Village Schooland statewide data from the New Hampshire Student Assessment System (NHSAS), the National Assessment of Educational Progress test do not support this narrative.

The data clearly shows that reading scores were decreasing well before the pandemic. Moreover, it also showed conclusively that fewer than half of NH’s students had been scoring proficient or better for decades.

Jody Underwood

In this article, we take an in-depth look at what happened to performance before and after the pandemic shutdowns in Vermont, using its statewide test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), and the NAEP test.

Vermont students have taken the SBAC every year in grades 3 through 9 since 2015. The tests were not administered in 2020 because of the school shutdowns caused by the COVID pandemic. In 2021, the SBAC was optional. Scores for 2023 are not yet available. The VT Agency of Education did not respond to a request for this data. However, because VT changed to the Cognia test, it would be hard to compare the 2023 results to previous years’ SBAC scores.

The VT SBAC Reading chart (below) shows the percentage of students in grades 3 through 9 who performed at or above proficiency in reading from 2018 to 2022. In 2022, just over 40% of 3rd-grade students (bottom line in chart) were considered proficient or above in reading. That means 60% of students were reading below grade level, a full year after returning to in-person schooling.

Performance in 2021 was better than in 2022, which is hard to explain. The chart shows that pre-pandemic performance had been poor since at least 2018, with about 50% of 3rd-grade students (bottom line in the chart) scoring proficient or above in reading. Though a ten-point drop is pretty significant, the fact remains that about half of Vermont’s students were not able to read at grade level before the pandemic. The chart shows a steady decline since 2018 for most grades, with all of them doing poorly across the years.

As we know, student ability can’t be measured by just one test. So, as we did with New Hampshire, we will look at how Vermont’s students did on a national test.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, pronounced “nape”) is often called “The Nation’s Report Card.” Since 1969, NAEP has been designed and used by the education establishment to let everyone know how well the United States is educating its children. They report results for each state for grades 4 and 8.

According to this test, Vermont students are about average compared to other states.

Vermont has NAEP scores for grades 4 and 8 in reading and math since 2002. In reading, as shown in the NAEP Reading chart (below), the number of students reading at or above proficient for grades 4 (blue line) and 8 (orange line) hovered around 40% from 2002 to 2019.

The grade 8 scores started to go down in 2019, before the pandemic. While shutdown affected the grade 4 scores a little, the data shows that the scores have been poor for over 20 years. Since 2002, around 60% of Vermont’s students have not been able to read at grade level. In 2022, the number edged closer to 65%.

As with New Hampshire, Vermont’s data shows dismal proficiency rates that stretch back more than twenty years. That Vermont made its state test optional in 2021 complicates the picture because that testing cohort deviates from the norm. However, Vermont’s data does show that if the scores got worse, it wasn’t by much. This is important because the narrative that “things got worse” suggests that things were going fine before when they weren’t.

This story is part of a series where we show how the pandemic shutdowns in Vermont and New Hampshire affected student performance on state and national standardized tests. Prior installments in this series were published in the Eagle Times on September 9 and 12 and in part 1 and part 2.

Next, we’ll take a look at test scores and reading instruction at Killington Elementary School in Killington, VT.

Republished from Granite Grok, a New Hampshire news and commentary online media outlet. The author has written research papers about how New Hampshire uses tax dollars for private schools and on how town tuitioning works in New Hampshire and New England. She has delivered presentations about town tuitioning and school choice around the state. Recently retired from her profession as a learning scientist, Dr. Underwood conducted design, development, and research around the use of technology for learning and assessment.

Categories: Education

18 replies »

    • We spend $26,500 per student in my districts K thru 8 education programs.

      Comapre that to an in-state student attending Castleton State for a full year of undergraduate studies for the same price….. that includes room and board.

  1. This situation is partially or largely due to failed experimental education policies driven by the United Nations, such as the Common Core Curriculum. Common Core was developed by United Nation’s stakeholders to create a global approach to education for countries with poor educational outcomes, lowering the bar on education for Western countries with good academic results. Another issue is Social Emotional Learning, which provides children with a political education centered on equity and Social Justice, centered on turning them into activist change agents. These are objectives of the United Nations. Every young child in the state knows exactly who BLM and George Floyd are, but are having difficulty with reading, writing and math.

    • I agree Christine, and esp. about Common Core!! I did some substitute teaching in a few grade schools a few years ago, and I was appalled with much that I witnessed. I am pleased to say that my local school is managed well, and with good teachers, but they have to comply with state, and National, guidelines. which Christine discusses here. One of several things I observed was that any child that does not meet his/her grade level in performance is not “held back”. When I first asked a co-worker why I was told “because it would make the school look bad”! What?! Since that day I have learned it is universal. The sad part is “who winds up suffering”? The child does ultimately because they continue to be passed on to the next grade-no matter how they are performing. Also, going back to reading, writing and arithmetic, as well as civics, might help the situation. Yes- I cold go on ad on, but will stop here.

  2. “This story is part of a series where we show how the pandemic shutdowns in Vermont and New Hampshire affected student performance on state and national standardized tests”

    This statement is a red herring.

    This is nothing more than a new spin on a old subject of PROPAGANDA.
    If you had kept cursive instruction you would have better scores because they can read things like the Constitution.
    If you spent more time teaching kids HOW to read and write you would not have this problem. Instead you teach inclusivity and diversity and ( gag) how to put on a condom or preform a sex act or what pronouns to use to name oneself.
    You use computers not books. You cannot get text to speech from a book you have to READ IT.
    You do not require reading to graduate. Used to, now, not so much.
    You try and strip parental rights from the parents when they find out the garbage you have been feeding their children and now they spend the day in a German style Hitler Youth Brainwashing session. No the sincerity of the author is lacking.

    • I guess I should’ve read your comment. Our thoughts are very similar. I don’t think 4 years of English is required either!

  3. What do you expect now that teachers don’t do the work? Let’s get iPads, computers, spellcheck and oh, let’s not forget you can change your gender if you want!

    Teachers should be teaching reading, writing (cursive), and arithmetic. We had vocabulary tests every week. If kids aren’t expected to spell it how would you expect them to read it?

    Stop babying the kids in school. Teachers try to be a friend as opposed to a superior. We weren’t allowed to wear hats in class, chew gum, and you certainly never addressed them by anything other then Mr. or Mrs. Kids can’t count back change without a calculator or phone. Teachers should be ashamed of themselves! Children won’t survive the loss of electronics, but this is what the government wants. People not being able to think for themselves.

  4. cost of public education keeps going up and quality keeps going down even as student population declines. more time on the basics and less on modern propaganda.a true cynic would say there is a desire to dumb down citizens

  5. Not to worry here. Throw some more cash at it and see if it gets better.

    The system set up for educational failure is an all consumptive abyss.
    A littany of excuses and lack of accountability. Administrators , teachers, teacher unions and parents all have a role. Few are stepping up. Those that do are held back cause they challenge the status quo and current approved solutions. More focused of other politically correct areas than academic excellence.

    It is a competitive world out there. Don’t think for a moment that others don’t want what you have. They want your car, your house , your microwave, your TV, your telephone, your very way of life. Not figuratively but literally . AND they are willing to study for it. Just ask the current generation of Chinese children about their test scores. No “give me” expectations there. They do have a value system to be admired.

    Our institutions of higher learning have actually penalized many of these students for their excellence by denying entrance or setting quotas for entrance. Sad.

    This argument of what to do about test score decline will persist till we get the unions out of the way , change our expectations for teachers for accountability and expect parents to be parents and not pass off their responsibility to others to raise their children. It does not take a village, it takes a vision of putting in place a series of tools for students to succeed, Oh, by the way they also have the freedom to choose a path to fail. AND when and if they do they too should be accountable.

  6. Your kids lack Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic skills, but from the liberals
    indoctrination within the schools, they can probably tell you everything about
    the ” LGBTQIA2S+ ” or whatever the new acronym will be, pathetic fools !!

    Wake up parents, they believe you’re the problem……………………….

  7. Readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic are no longer taught, and haven’t been in a really long time. They are NOT important. What IS important:

    Self-Esteem: You will be pleased to learn that American school age children have the most self-love of all countries. Can’t read, don’t know cursive, don’t know history, can’t add 2+2, can’t sign their own name, have no idea when or even WHY the Civil War was fought OR by whom or where. But their love of self just can’t be beat.

    Equity and Inclusion: Black students now understand they have carte blanche to be mean to white students AND segregate them to wherever the black kids are not. White students now understand that they are evil b/c of their skin color, and most definitely inferior. They are taught every day that when one loses or is not happy with the status quo one MOST CERTAINLY has the RIGHT-nay, the OBLIGATION-to plan destructive riots to get their own way.

    Research Skills: It is with a sadness in my heart that most students know how to find the best porn on the net! They may not know (or care to know) how to find historical info, BUT-they CAN tell you where to see the best enactments of the acts described in their school books. Even better, they can tell you how sex acts are done, AND many will swear they are not what they were “assigned at birth”.

    Moral or Ethical Concepts: Ironically, the strongest motivation to have community schooling was to teach the next generation how to read-The Bible. That’s right, boys and girls, there was truly a well rounded approach to teaching. That included the Word of God. Our original colonists wanted to make sure no other monarch or ruler could ban knowledge of any kind. That was , for them, an important reason to relocate to the New World. Now parents have to worry that if their child goes to school with his/her personally owned Bible to be read during lunch break, their child’s possession will be confiscated and the child criticized , humiliated, and yes, even banned from class.

    Although my children are all grown, I have wanted to attend school board meetings. What I have been coming across is that IF they “allow” We-The-People to see and hear what they are doing, it’s either pre-recorded or just reported after the fact, of their DECISIONS. They are part of the “Progressive Deciders” network.

    Hey Vermont: Had enough yet???? WAKE UP.

  8. A better report on the current public-school state of affairs was published by VT Digger. Yes, VT Digger. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

    And keep in mind that the NAEP data (National Assessment of Education Progress) is a very limited cohort. Fewer than 5% of only 4th and 8th graders actually take the tests. And taking the test is voluntary, which typically means only motivated students take them.

    The Vermont Agency of Education assessments (SBAC) are applied to all students from 3rd to 9th grades. It’s not a voluntary assessment.

    Not only do most students not read at grade level. In math, 60% of tested students are below grade level proficiencies. And 90% of them graduate anyway.

    Never mind all of the other nonsense these kids learn on the side.

  9. Call the Vermont Principals Association and ask about becoming involved in the hundreds of thousands of dollars they have been spending on DEI conferences, school visits, affinity groups, leadership academies for principals, and increasing VPA capacity to support schools (i.e. adding more well-paid staff). I’m absolutely certain all of these investments have been helping a great deal, and will continue to assist our schools in helping children develop a love for learning and bolstered basic skills!

    • Not to mention the IQs of those who enable them?

      “Who is more foolish? The fool or the fool who follows him?”
      ― O. W. Kenobi

  10. Well, what do you expect from a state that only ranks fourth in per pupil spending? We need to be #1. Then we’d see results.

    NOT! Here’s my 9-point plan for starters. Feel free to add more.

    1. Make sure that every educator is competent in the discipline they’re hired to teach.
    2. Base teacher retention on how well each one teaches (performance-based). Do they increase student performance or not? Three years of “not” and you’re out of the system. Make it easier to move on from the lousy teachers, union be damned.
    3. Eliminate Common Core. Stupidest thing I’ve ever encountered.
    4. As someone said, get back to basics. It worked for 200+ years.
    5. Hire outside the system. There are lots of, say, engineers for example, that would love to teach math. If they can prove competency, let ’em into the system.
    6. Bring back discipline to the classroom. Detention doesn’t work and never did. Why not make these kids work in the library for a week, or sweep and haul trash along with the maintenance staff? There are lots of possibilities.
    7. Lots of teachers have little to no personality or interpersonal skills. So how do we expect our children to learn from them? Those two things are part of competency, don’t you think? Think of the worst teacher you ever had. Why did you feel that way?
    8. Make learning fun again. Use real-life examples to drive home important concepts. For example, I became interested in math because my Dad taught me how to work out basic baseball statistics. The options are literally endless.
    9. Make every effort to get more men into the system. It’s terribly unbalanced at the K-8 levels. Lots of kids nowadays are from single parent (Mom) households. They truly need male role models who care about them and their performance.

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