school improvement plan process

Originally published on MSN, November 10, 2022

Vermont students in grades three to nine will be taking a new state exam in 2023, with an emphasis on equity.

Annual testing, in addition to regular in-class exams, helps educators and state leaders keep track of how Vermont students are achieving in the classroom. Cognia is replacing the Smarter Balanced Assessment or the SBAC.

“We are moving toward having a more equitable assessment program. We are not promising that we have the most equitable and representative assessment program of all programs. But what we are doing is we are making steps toward that, so we’re evaluating what our program has looked like over time in the past,” said Amanda Gorham, the director of assessment with the Vermont Agency of Education.

Here is how Gorham says the new Cognia exam is different from the SBACS and past exams:

  • There will be multiple translations and accommodations for all types of learners.
  • There will be a diverse group of readings and authors for exam passages.
  • There will be one platform to test ELA, math, and science, whereas in the past there were two different platforms to test the subject areas.
  • It’s expected to be shorter, but that won’t be known until students actually take the test.

Gwen Carmolli, the director of curriculum for the Colchester School District, says they don’t know what the test will look like yet but she’s hoping for an improvement with the interface as well as this emphasis on equity.

“We’re hoping that the item bank really reflects the most current of our commitment to diversity and equity,” said Carmolli. “We are hoping that the features that students have and it could be something like, you know, making the font larger or read-aloud components or the displays the ways in which students have choices.”

Reaching equitable testing can be a challenge when every student has a different background and learning experience. Michael Eppolito, the director of curriculum in the Winooski School District, says testing inequity can be felt in multiple different ways for students.

He says in general, students with more privileges tend to do better than their counterparts. Inequities can also be seen in testing logistics, like how long exams take. He says he feels no matter the test, it’s more about engaging teachers and eventually students in how programming can be improved where necessary.

“While I am skeptical of these statewide assessments, I do think they play a necessary role in helping us think about what we need to be doing,” said Eppolito. “I don’t think that they have achieved their goals. I don’t think they’ve really helped us get better… Anytime we assess, it’s really about being able to see what our students can know and can do, and so that we can make adjustments to the way we teach.”

State exams rotate every few years, and the SBAC contract had come to a close.

Educators say there will be a Cognia training this winter and the first students will get the test in April. Cognia’s test is contracted for three years with the possibility of a two-year extension.