Cate says state needs to find new ways of teaching math, writing

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(Host intro) Education Commissioner Richard Cate says it’s critical to find new ways to teach Vermont students math and writing skills.

That’s because new test results show that roughly two-thirds of all high school juniors aren’t proficient in the subjects.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The new assessments represent a collaboration between Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island and were given to most high school juniors in all three states.

Just over 7,000 Vermont students took the tests that measured their competency in reading, writing and mathematics.

Commissioner Cate says the results are mixed. While roughly two-thirds of all students were judged to be proficient in reading, 70 percent were below the proficiency standard in math.

Cate says these results are meaningful because the tests were written by educators in the three states and represent what officials believe are important concepts for high school students to know. The commissioner says this isn’t always the case with many national tests.

(Cate) "I think we now have an assessment that really articulates what we want students to know about mathematics and it more clearly demonstrates that they aren’t doing as well in mathematics as we want them to….We have a problem we’ve got to deal with."

(Kinzel) The results also show that roughly 60 % of the students failed to meet proficiency standards in writing. Cate thinks the popularity of text messaging among teenagers is one reason why.

(Cate) "Although I don’t do much text messaging, if I did after all these years I wouldn’t forget how to write. But these young people grow up in an age where the text messaging was already there. That’s all they’ve got and so they may learn it in class, but they don’t get to practice it as much as I wish they would."

(Kinzel) Cate says he’s concerned that low income students, those who qualify for the federal lunch program, scored much lower than other students on these tests.

Cate also says he opposes a new bill that would elevate the Department of Education to cabinet level status as a full agency and allow the governor to appoint the commissioner. Currently, the governor chooses a commissioner from a list of nominees provided by the State Board of Education.

Cate is worried that the change will politicize his office.

(Cate) “If the Agency is caught up on one side or another in kind of a political debate over maybe funding or something else, how does that affect our ability to work with 280 non partisan school districts who have an expectation that we’re involved in a kind of being a neutral party with them on working on it?"

(Kinzel) The legislation is being closely reviewed by both the House and Senate Education committees.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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