Monday, November 9, 2015

God Bless Vermont

This has been extensively covered, but there are some stories that just can't get too much coverage.

In an era of weaselly lobbyist-hugging education-crumpling behavior in our states, Vermont has been a breath of fresh air.

It was a little over a year ago that the Vermont Board of Education let standardized testing have a piece of their collective minds. 

While the federal government continues to require the use of subjectively determined cut-off score, employing such metrics lacks scientific foundation. The skills needed for success in society are rich and diverse. Consequently, there is no single point on a testing scale that has proven accurate in measuring the success of a school or in measuring the talents of an individual. Claims to the contrary are technically indefensible and their application would be unethical.

And their "whereas..." portion of the testing resolution contained one of my favorite phrases ever in a government document about education:

WHEREAS, the culture and structure of the systems in which students learn must change in order to foster engaging school experiences that provide joy in learning, depth of thought and breadth of knowledge for students...

Joy in learning, depth of thought, and breadth of knowledge-- man, that is a mission statement I could get behind every single morning.

And now, in the wake of SBA scores, the state Board of Education has once again made bold, clear assertions about what truly matters in education. You can find a full copy of the letter here, but some of my favorite parts--

After telling parents that they have received test results in the national consortium's format. "We are working on a friendlier and more appropriate presentation for next year." Imagine. "Friendlier." As if real humans are going to be reading it.

"Do not let results wrongly discourage your child from pursuing his or her talents, ambitions, hopes or dreams."

"These tests are based on a narrow definition of 'college and career ready.' In truth, there are many different careers and colleges and there are just as many different definitions of essential skills."

"As a parent, encourage your child to reach as high as he or she can. Let her or him know that they are worthy and capable."

"We must give every student a thorough and comprehensive education, and provide the nurturing and support that each child needs to grow into an effective, productive and self-directed citizen."

I don't know who does the actual writing for the Vermont B of E, but my hat is all the way off to that person. Simple, direct and clear-- who knew that the announcement of SBA scores would lead to a great, straightforward explanation of what education should mean for each child and for the community. It is easy to rant about what is wrong-headed and foolish about reform policies like the SBA (I should know)-- but it takes a cool head and clear vision in the midst of that baloney to keep your eye on the real goal.

God bless Vermont.


  1. Vermont, the great state Bernie Sanders represents.

  2. I don't know what to think of that letter? It seems strange to me. Tell the parents that the scores don't mean anything, but then say that they're working to change the wording of the results for next year? In some ways it sounds really great that they are stepping up and supporting children, teachers and education, but if you don't get rid of the monster and keep feeding it, it just gets bigger and harder to control later.

    1. I think maybe they mean that the sort of thing they say in the letter will be incorporated in the scores next year. If you read the whole letter, it's pretty clear they're only giving the test because the Feds are making them; it's not something they believe in.

  3. They are laying the groundwork for CBE. This is right in line with the Obama, "I've had a change of heart about those darn standardized tests," media blitz.

    1. Hmmm. The part about what they do in humanities class makes sense to me, though a link by a commentator to SBL, not so much. I'm not big on one method being better for all classes and all students. In the humanities class at least they weren't on a computer program, which is what I thought CBE was.

    2. The thing is, we were doing proficiency-based learning years and years ago in foreign language. It's nothing new. I'm a believer in taking the best part of all ideas and methods and combining them, depending on your subject and students.

    3. Please don't be naive. ALEC and hundreds of K-12 online education companies are co-opting the concepts of competency or proficiency-based education. It will look like a refreshing alternative, but once in place it'll turn into Rocketship Academy for everyone. If you aren't familiar with the players, please spend some time on Emily's blog posts starting from last spring: These posts from Morna McDermott of UOO are also very good:

      Look at what happened this week with "TeachStrong." It's going to get worse before it gets better. There is too much money and power at stake.

      The fact that Vermont is doing this makes me question Sanders, too.

    4. Allison, This is discouraging information to take in, even for a cynic like me. I like Bernie and have since he was only my major, long before he was my senator, but he doesn't get education(teaching, schooling,assessment) any more than the rest of them.

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