2013 Year in Review: Education - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

2013 Year in Review: Education

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Writing, reading, arithmetic-- and reform. No sooner did the ball drop on the New Year and Gov. Peter Shumlin was calling for a major overhaul of the state's education system. He made reform the cornerstone of his inaugural address, from an expansion of publicly funded preschool to a doubling of funding for high school students to take college courses. The governor also called for individual education plans for every Vermont student and reimbursements of student debt for those in high-tech fields who promise to stay in the state.

"Our employers from border to border are eager to find workers with the right educational skills," Shumlin, D-Vermont, said in January.

But that could take some time, as standardized test results showed Vermont students still not making the grade, especially when it comes to science and math.

"We might have taped this last year because it is really same story as it was last year, that we really continue to be concerned with our high school math scores," the Vt. Department of Education's Michael Hock said in February.

NECAP scores showed just 38 percent of the state's 11th-graders proficient in math.

But the results will look different in coming years as Vermont moves away from the New England Common Assessment's paper-based tests to a Smarter Balance computer-based assessment. Leaders announced Vermont will join 30 other states using a new common core of standards, expected to be harder to pass than NECAPs.

"Being proficient on the new test will be defined as students being ready to take and pass a credit-bearing course in freshman year of college," Hock said. "So, it is a higher standard and probably we are going to see test scores go down. I would love to be surprised, but they are higher standards."

The higher standards will come into play by spring of 2015. By then, Vermont's new education secretary will have been on the job for just over a year. Governor Shumlin selected Rebecca Holcombe of Norwich to become the state's new top educator, introduced to Vermonters in September.

"But I want to say first and foremost, this isn't about me. It's about us," Holcombe said. "This is about bringing together all the people in our community who care about education to sit down at the table and work together for good solutions to the kinds of challenges we face in schools."

Holcombe will take over when Armando Vilaseca wraps up next month.

From Burlington to Berlin, Bennington to Brattleboro, school officials across the state also grappled with the issue of school security.

"At this point, I think the security concerns and the sense that students and teachers have felt that perhaps we have been too open, we needed to address that," Burlington school principal Amy Mellencamp said in January.

In the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last December, 2013 in Vermont meant newly locked doors, security badges, even 24/7 surveillance cameras in some schools.

And some schools almost saw a sea change in the school calendar. Superintendents in the Champlain Valley proposed a shorter break in the summer with several longer breaks during the school year. Educators said the new breaks would help struggling students catch up. Called Calendar 2.0, they wanted to implement the proposal next fall until parents sounded off so loudly the plan was scrapped, at least for now.

Finally, on a bright note, students in Milton captured the attention of the nation's gardener in chief. First lady Michelle Obama invited five elementary school students to the nation's capital to help plant this year's White House Kitchen Garden. It was part of her effort to promote healthy eating and a recognition of positive changes to the school's lunch program. The first lady sat down with us for an exclusive interview to share some of her own goals for her visitors from Vermont.

"I hope they leave here inspired," Mrs. Obama said.

It was a lesson outside the classroom the students won't likely forget. An exciting moment in education in Vermont in a year focused on big change in the future, from pre-k to college.

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