Agency of Education

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Holcombe to stay at Agency of Education

MONTPELIER — Republican Gov. Phil Scott announced Monday that he is re-appointing Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe, who was previously appointed by former Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin. Holcombe is the final cabinet-level appointment for Scott, who took office on Jan. 5. Scott had asked the State Board of Education to launch a search for an education secretary as part of the transition from the Shumlin administration to the Scott administration. The board provided the governor with three recommendations, including Holcombe, who was first appointed by Shumlin in January 2014. Continue Reading →

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Retirements impact Agency of Education

MONTPELIER — The Agency of Education is reviewing its priorities and deciding what services it will no longer be able to offer after losing staff members to a retirement incentive program. As the agency works to implement Act 46, the state’s new school district merger law, it is doing so with five fewer members of its staff, which will leave the agency unable to provide the same services it has in the past, says Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe. “There are some things we’re just not going to be able to do,” Holcombe said Tuesday during the monthly meeting of the State Board of Education. “We’ll just have to be highly strategic in how we target our staff.”

Earlier this year, the Shumlin Administration proposed offering financial incentives to encourage employees who were eligible to retire to do so, part of an effort to balance the 2016 state budget. The offer was open to as many as 300 employees and was projected to save as much as $2.6 million dollars, with the plan contingent upon the requirement that 75 percent of the positions being vacated would remain unfilled. Continue Reading →

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School test scores show decline in proficiency

BARRE — Education officials are warning the public not to jump to any conclusions just because the latest K-12 standardized test scores show a decline in proficiency. On Monday, the Agency of Education released scores for the newest incarnation of standardized testing known as the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), which is intended to measure proficiency of students in grades three through eight — and grade 11 — the fields of math and English. Overall, proficiency in English ranged from a low of 51 percent in grade four to 58 percent in 11th grade. Math scores, on the other hand, showed a near-steady decline across grades, from 52 percent proficient in grade three to 37 percent in grade 11. These scores are lower than those from the last round of testing, said Michael Hock, director of assessment for the Agency of Education. Continue Reading →

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State takes another step away from standardized testing

MONTPELIER — Vermont will not use its newly implemented standardized testing system to evaluate the state’s K-12 schools. Earlier this week, the State Board of Education voted to not use the results from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium — or SBAC — as the basis for its annual report on school performance to the federal government. The SBAC, a computerized test that students — many for the first time — began taking Tuesday, replaces the New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP, which for years provided the annual data on school performance required under the federal “No Child Behind” act, often referred to derisively by educators and administrators as “No Child Left Untested.”

In the spring of 2014, nearly 30 schools took the SBAC test as part of a pilot program. Aside from this handful of students, most will be seeing the new test for the first time this spring. In theory, the SBAC test will do a better job of measuring the Common Core State Standards adopted by the state in 2010. Continue Reading →

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Agency of Education questions consolidation proposal

MONTPELIER — The Agency of Education does not support portions of a bill that seeks to consolidate the state’s school districts. The House Ways and Means Committee took testimony Tuesday afternoon from Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe on a bill that seeks to create school districts with at least 1,100 students that offer pre-kindergarten through 12th grade education by the year 2020. Holcombe, who says studies show the optimal size for a school district is 1,500 students, is a supporter of creating larger districts, with the goals of reducing costs through efficiency and improving student access to educational opportunities by sharing staff across a larger district. “You are asking people to think of their communities as bigger than their town borders,” Holcombe told the committee. “The bill encourages districts to sit down and look around locally and see who you might want to partner with.”

The 51-page bill includes tax incentives to encourage districts to consolidate on their own, while giving authority to the Agency of Education to consolidate districts that do not do so. Continue Reading →

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Capitol Beat: Press Bureau talks education with Jill Remick

Capitol Beat

Neal Goswami and Josh O’Gorman talk education with Jill Remick of the Agency Education. The legislature is considering several aspects of education reform, primarily changes to educational districts, and Remick, the agency’s  director of communications and legislative affairs, speaks about existing local consolidation efforts, potential changes to the law, and the goals of the Agency of Education.   Continue Reading →

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Authors of consolidation study respond to criticism

Daniella Hall and Ian Burfoot-Rochford, authors of a study that asserts the consolidation of schools and school districts will not save money or result in better educational outcomes for students, have offered a reply to criticism from the Agency of Education that the study is flawed. Below is their response in its entirety. “Thank you for giving us the opportunity to respond to the rebuttal that was recently sent out by the Vermont Agency of Education (AOE). We appreciate the rebuttal, as we believe it adds to Vermont’s understanding and discussion of educational reform initiatives. Our goal in writing this brief was to contribute to the debate, as well as support communities and legislators as they evaluate the cost-benefits of consolidation. Continue Reading →

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Agency of Education criticizes consolidation study

BARRE — The Agency of Education is criticizing a recent study that suggests the consolidation of schools and districts will not save money or provide better outcomes for students. Last week, Daniella Hall and Ian Burfoot-Rochford, researchers at Penn State University, released a study titled “Vermont Educational Reform: A Balanced Approach to Equity and Funding.” Burfoot-Rochford is a Vermont native and a former elementary school teacher in Cabot, while Hall hails from Maine, which in recent years has undergone statewide school district consolidation. The study asserts that, “Drawing from over a century of research on the outcomes of district and school consolidation, we found no evidence that consolidation will produce beneficial or educational outcomes for Vermont.”

Wednesday, the Agency of Education offered a rebuttal — authored by Secretary Rebecca Holcombe and Wendy Geller, data administration director for the agency — that questions the authors’ interpretation of the data they used for their study. “We feel compelled to respond, because with respect to school and district size, this report seriously misrepresents much of the peer-reviewed research on which it claims to be based,” states the rebuttal from the Agency of Education. “Because it overgeneralizes and oversimplifies, we are concerned this report does a disservice to the powerful conversations some of our school boards and communities are having about how they can ensure stability for their schools and children – both the ones they serve today and the ones they are likely to serve in the future.”

Holcombe and Geller note that the research cited in the study actually supports the notion that consolidation will save money and result in better educational outcomes. Continue Reading →

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