State Education Policy Is Hurting Students

April 13, 2018

by Rob Roper

The latest test scores for Vermont students are here, and they continue an unsettling trend of decline for our student outcomes. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released its 4th and 8th grade reading and math results from 2017, which indicates declines in all categories from 2015. Three of the four categories were noted as “significantly different.”

This downward trend is also present in the latest Smarter Balanced test results, which showed a decline in scores between 2015 and 2016. This test is given to all kids in grades 3-8 plus 11, and, again, in all categories except one scores dropped.

As Bill Mathis of the State Board of Education said, “When you have two different tests showing much the same thing, you have to pay attention to them.”

So, what is causing this decline in public school student outcomes? There are several policies that are suspect.

  • Act 46 (2015) has been hugely disruptive and time intensive for school boards and administrators, taking focus away from students.
  • Increased use of paraeducators for special needs students. (See 2015 study)
  • The growth of publicly funded/administered Pre-K. Implemented in 2007, the number of Vermont students matriculating through the 4th grade from these “high quality” programs began in 2012-13, has been increasing every year, and test scores have been dropping since.
  • Adoption of “Proficiency Based” graduations standards, which began implementation in 2014.

As one concerned parent testified regarding proficiency based learning, “It entails significant changes in how a school operates and how it teaches students, affecting everything from the school educational philosophy and culture to its methods of instruction, testing, grading, honors, reporting, promotion, and graduation.”

Maybe it’s one of these things, or maybe it’s a combination of some, or maybe it’s all of them. Maybe this is just too much for school systems to digest at all at once. We don’t know for sure. But what we do know for sure is that the policies coming out of Montpelier are not helping our kids or out teachers.

So, at this point, perhaps lawmakers should take a break from heaping even more disruptive mandates and system changes on our schools and devote their time to figuring out how to clean up the messes they’ve made.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

John L Mahaffy April 13, 2018 at 3:49 pm

But, Rob, they’re not done remaking Vermont. I mean, with a whole year to serve, how can you expect ’em to not meddle with whatever catches their attention? “Oh, we’re just going to make Vermont so PERFECT! You won’t even recognize it by the time we’re done!”


H. Brooke Paige April 13, 2018 at 6:00 pm

Sadly, every few years these folks (in education) come up with a whole basket of new ideas and new ways to teach our children “new things” but require the children to be tested using new criteria and measurements to conceal the ineffectiveness (or total failure) of their plans. When their “big ideas” fail, they resign and head off to their next “adventure” leaving the parents, the community and ultimately the taxpayers to pick-up the pieces !

Rebecca Holcombe, sorry you didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to hang around to oversee the ruination of Vermont’s schools caused by your Act 46 “big idea” !


Weiland A. Ross April 15, 2018 at 1:07 pm

The failing trends for our schools are national as well as local. I suspect that the solutions are so politically incorrect that there is little hope to turn the education system around. The biggest problem is that education philosophy has landed on a goal of
“meeting the needs of each student” instead of teaching students what they need to know to meet the needs of society. Schools are so top heavy with classroom aides that students are prevented from having to think for them selves: the slightest hesitation on the part of a student about an assignment brings at least one adult to solve his or her problem. Students are led to believe that someone or something will always be there to prop them up. When confronted with a test of any kind in which they have to rely on their own resources, they panic. Schools need to teach students to rely on their own abilities, not depend on assistance at every turn.


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The Ethan Allen Institute is Vermont’s free-market public policy research and education organization. Founded in 1993, we are one of fifty-plus similar but independent state-level, public policy organizations around the country which exchange ideas and information through the State Policy Network.

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