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Vt. education agency releases annual 'Snapshot' that shows uncertainty in schools

A photo showing school desks in a classroom, with a composition notebook and a pencil on the front-most desk.
The Vermont Agency of Education released the 2021 Annual Snapshot earlier this month.

Each year the Vermont Agency of Education releases its Annual Snapshot, which is a glimpse into how Vermont schools are faring using quantitative data.

Earlier this month, the Agency of Education released an updated version of their findings, which are designed to show progress and change over time, and serve as a tool of comparison from year to year. But this year, because of ongoing COVID impacts, the Snapshot reveals mostly uncertainty.

VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Patrick Halladay, educator quality division director for the Agency of Education. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mitch Wertlieb: So this Annual Snapshot is just that — it's a snapshot of how Vermont schools are doing based on measures that the state has deemed important. So let's start with what those measures are. What does the state deem important when it comes to education?

Patrick Halladay: Most years, it serves two purposes. One is what we call reporting, which is just giving out data. And the second is what's called accountability, to identify particular schools as eligible for what we either determine is equity or comprehensive supports. And this year, though, because there's no comparative data from previous years, we do not have any accountability data built into this year's snapshot.

That sounds fairly important. So are schools that may be looking for some of that support hoping that next year's assessment will include that accountability factor?

The funds are still going to be shared for the schools that are eligible for comprehensive support. It's just based on data. It's just kind of carry-over funds based on data from several years before.

So in some ways, you know, no school wants to kind of have a signifier that they are a school in need of support. But we also know that schools are really concerned about performance gaps between historically marginalized and privileged student populations. And so we're confident that they continue to do that work, we're just not making those identifications this year.

"There really is a big gap between our historically marginalized and our historically privileged populations."
Patrick Halladay, Vermont Agency of Education

What does it mean, practically speaking, when the AOE can't really make the assessments that it normally would? I mean, how does that affect what schools would typically do following a more traditional assessment?

What that means is schools can still look at how they've done this year. The Snapshot is designed to be able to look at particular student groups, so you might want to look at how your historically marginalized populations are performing. And that could be an indicator, for example, for math performance.

There really is a big gap between our historically marginalized and our historically privileged populations. We need to dig further and try to understand exactly what that is. But again, it's an indicator, and schools still can look at the data from the 2021 school year, they just don't have a comparison to the previous school year to be able to find a trendline through that.

So it sounds like what you're saying is that, you know, progress is the hardest thing to track. We can't really necessarily track the progress from 2020 to 2021, but we can take a look at the year from 2021 and make some assessments based on what we do know from that.

Yeah, I think that's accurate. And, you know, we do have data going back to the, you know, into the 2017-2018 year and 2018-2019 school year. But one of the things that the agency has been looking at in terms of, you know, recovery from the pandemic — academic proficiency — is absolutely important. But we're noticing more and more and more, so are things like student and educators' social-emotional well-being.

If a student is dealing with accumulated anxiety that you know, that we're all feeling right now, they're not going to be in a place to be able to perform on a math assessment that doesn't seem to, you know, that they don't really care about.

"... recovery from the pandemic — academic proficiency — is absolutely important. But we're noticing more and more and more, so are things like student and educators' social-emotional well-being."
Patrick Halladay, Vermont Agency of Education

One of the things I'd like to follow up on though, what you were just talking about, is again, proficiency is obviously very important, test scores and that sort of thing. But you seem to be talking about another thing that this assessment is designed to do, which is to find out how schools, school districts and students — perhaps educators as well — can be better supported, not necessarily ranked or evaluated.

What does that support look like? And where should it come from, primarily?

One thing to understand is the Snapshot is one tool that schools have available to them. Another tool that was available to schools is, every three years the Agency of Education will go and make what we call an integrated field review visit to every single school system in the state. And that's really meant to give more qualitative information, and put a little bit of meat on the quantitative problems that we see.

Are we seeing something like disciplinary exclusions going up? OK. That might be an interesting thing to see. What are the reasons then to see those disciplinary exclusions? And what sort of supports and resources might we want to invest in as we're thinking about a comprehensive improvement process? Is this a change in the way that teachers are acting, is it a change in the way that administrators are acting, is it a change in behaviors of students? So that we can really start to to address those.

More from VPR: In Vermont, kids' mental health is deteriorating after nearly two years of instability

We've talked about the challenges of trying to compare 2021 to 2020 here, but is there anything from this latest Annual Snapshot that really stands out to you? Anything that you think is worth highlighting?

The industry recognized credentials, a credential that says, say, a student has demonstrated a certain level of proficiency with, depending on what their program is, maybe electrical skills, that those have remained pretty steady. And so students have still been able to to get some real world experience that's taking place. And so we haven't seen a substantial decrease, at least, in students who are doing that.

I think that also reflects some challenges and really opportunities that are taking place in education right now — that, you know, two and a half years ago, if someone had said, you know, we're going to take all of our education online, we would have thought that seems impossible to do.

But we've now realized that while it is far from ideal, that there are different ways that education can be structured, and the traditional classroom is not the only way to do it, allowing for more flexibility for students and for teachers and how they're getting across that information.

Have questions, comments, or concerns? Send us a message or tweet your thoughts to @mwertlieb.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Karen is Vermont Public's Director of Radio Programming, serving Vermonters by overseeing the sound of Vermont Public's radio broadcast service. Karen has a long history with public radio, beginning in the early 2000's with the launch of the weekly classical music program, Sunday Bach. Karen's undergraduate degree is in Broadcast Journalism, and she has worked for public radio in Vermont and St. Louis, MO, in areas of production, programming, traffic, operations and news. She has produced many projects for broadcast over the years, including the Vermont Public Choral Hour, with host Linda Radtke, and interviews with local newsmakers with Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb. In 2021 Karen worked with co-producer Betty Smith on a national collaboration with StoryCorps One Small Step, connecting Vermonters one conversation at a time.
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