- Associated Press - Thursday, September 25, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Average science test scores of students in three grades have dropped slightly in Vermont from last year, with the greatest dip among eight-graders, the state’s education secretary said Thursday.

Forty-four percent of fourth-graders scored proficient or higher, down 3 percentage points from 2013. Twenty-five percent of eighth-graders met the standard, a drop of 7 percentage points. And 30 percent of 11th graders were proficient or higher, which is 1 percentage point lower than last year.

“While some individual schools are doing very well, we are not satisfied with these scores,” said Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe.

The average scores have not improved over several years, which suggests that an emphasis on English language arts and math in the federal No Child Left Behind Act may be overshadowing science instruction, she said. The decline in science scores also raises concerns about what’s happening in other subjects that are difficult to test, such as the arts, wellness and physical education, civics and history, she said.

“It certainly raises questions about whether high stakes accountability under No Child Left Behind is really challenging schools to give short shrift to other critical outcome,” she said.

The scores were announced at the White River School in White River Junction, which has a fairly high and growing number of students who are living in poverty and is in a district that has a lot of transients - students who are homeless or who are not expected to stay in the community.

Despite those challenges, the school’s mean score for kids living in poverty was similar to the state level for all other kids, she said. The statewide average showed about a 24 percent gap between children from low-income families and their peers.

The school also has a science teacher leader who finds opportunities for students in kindergarten through fifth grade to engage in scientific experiments, engineering projects, technology and other hands-on learning projects, she said.

To address the decline in science scores, the state will continue to do professional development and reach out to struggling districts to partner with them to provide additional professional development, Holcombe said.

New Hampshire and Rhode Island - the other two states that use the New England Common Assessment - saw similar declines in scores, education officials said.

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