Glass Half Full

Vermont has released the results for the “Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium” test our students took during the 2016-2017 school year. This was the third year that Vermont students took part in the “Smarter Balanced” program.

All Vermont public school students in grades three through eight plus grade 11 take the tests in English and math. The state reports the percentage of students who perform at or above grade level.

Let’s look at what the state and some of the media tell us.

The SBAC test results show that fourth graders in the Town of Franklin are doing great! 82.4% of them perform at or above grade level in math and 70.6% do the same in English.

Pretty good, eh?

Everyone loves it when a percentage — sometimes a large percentage — of students perform at or above grade level.

But wait. The reports help us lose track of the fact that a growing number of students are still found below grade level and only a scant few are doing better.

• The Town of Highgate has generally the lowest numbers in the County; Oopsonly 36.6% of fifth graders performed at or above grade level in English and only 19.5% did that in math. It gets worse in high school. At Missisquoi Valley Union High School, just 26.9% of eleventh graders performed at or above grade level in English and only 4.5% did it in math.

• Student performance has also declined from the 2015-2016 school year but the reports don’t show that up front.

• “The Agency of Education initially reported 59% of fourth grade students were proficient in English… The correct number is 49%.”

School results like this are worrisome, particularly when the Agency of Education apparently can’t do the arithmetic.

The reports help us lose track of the fact that a growing number of kids are still found below grade level.

At MVUHS (simple arithmetic here) 95.5% of 11th graders scored below grade level in math! 95.5%. Even in the Town of Franklin, almost a third, 29.4%, scored below grade level in English.

I’ve been thinking about schools and learning and creativity for decades. I have taught high school kids and college courses. I have studied teaching thanks to Vermont Colleges and “workshopped” in the hot ticket for teaching techniques (for the record, I prefer Mastery Learning). I have worked with school administrators and superintendents. And I was School Moderator for our Town.

In real life, I’m an engineer so I live for data but, above all, I know the statistics hide the kids.

The Bard remains a fixture in high school English classes so I asked 11th grader Jimmy Lombard what “wherefore” means in the phrase “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” As an aside, the Washington Post posited that teachers should not assign Romeo and Juliet.

“It means ‘Where did you go, Romeo’,” Jimmy said. “He was off in the bushes.”


Juliet’s opening question in that romantically philosophic speech,

“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo
Deny thy father and refuse thy name
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.”

means that Juliet is agonized that Romeo is a Montague and wishes him to have been born to some other family. Any other tribe. It fits with “a rose by any other name…”

Sorry, Jimmy. Mr. Shakespear had Juliet poetically ask, “O Romeo, Romeo, why are you Romeo Capulet, dammit?”

Meanwhile, 4th grader Karen Rocque was doing some homework and didn’t have her calculator so she asked me, “What’s 12 times 9.”

(It’s 108.)

Kids are supposed to “fluently” multiply and divide numbers up to 100 by the third grade. Many education experts today won’t even teach the multiplication tables.

In another county, Burlington, Vermont’s teachers just settled a four-day strike. They wanted more money, of course, but mostly they wanted less time with the kids. A major disagreement in the contract negotiations was simple: the teachers demanded to be excused from interacting with the kids for 20 minutes during lunch and recess.

The average Burlington teacher’s salary for the past school year was $70,878; the state average salary was $59,154. The average Burlington student performs below grade level.

Imagine that. Professionals want more money and less time on the job to turn in poorer and poorer results.

One of the strikers carried a sign. “Quality Teachers Deserve Respect.”

I agree.

“Students Deserve Quality Teachers,” too.

Is the glass half empty? My question remains, should we stop assigning Shakespear and multiplication tables because they are hard or should we buckle down and learn to teach Jimmy and Karen and all our other kids?


Fair and Balanced

NORTH PUFFIN–Inspired by neighboring Towns, some here have called for all-inclusive decriminalization of property crimes.

New resident Ashley Proctor wants to “end discrimination against those less fortunate who are driven to commit property events to survive.”

Regular readers may have met my friend Ms. Proctor. She is a twenty-something social engineer with an MSW who had lived in Madison, Wisconsin, before moving to North Puffin. She had worked as a Community Education Specialist at Wisconsin Community Services in a taxpayer-funded position until that state closed its $3.5 billion budget gap in part by eliminating 1,200 state jobs.

Burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, and arson all have the object of the taking of money or property without force or threat of force against the victim.

Residents of the small Vermont Town of Essex want a new policy to make all residents feel welcome — even if those new to town are in the country illegally. The resolution will make the Town afair and impartial communitywith a town-wide policy covering anything from getting a library card to a dog license.

Burglar“Who is hurt by a small ‘theft’,” she asked.

“No one,” she answered immediately. “In fact, if someone realigns the ownership of your television set, at least four people benefit. The recipient who is now able to watch programs for perhaps the first time ever, the local business who sells you a replacement, you because you now have a new set with all the latest features, and the middleperson in this transaction.”


North Puffin is a reasonably safe place. There were 45 reported property crimes including one red truck disappeared from a barn, ten burglaries, one suspected arson, two cases of cattle rustling, and 31 other larcenies.

I wondered if the people who committed those crimes would get off scot free in Ms. Proctor’s world.

“They aren’t ‘crimes’,” she said.

Her draft ordinance reads,

“The Town of North Puffin shall refuse any requests to arrest or seize persons accused of property ‘crimes’ from any Sheriff, the State Police, or any federal enforcement agency. As a fair and balanced community, the Town shall treat all property events committed within the community as transactions, not subject to state or federal law.”

The Town attorney said he will review the proposed ordinance. Selectboard members wouldn’t speak on the record but say off the record that they can’t pass it but do want to continue the conversation.