• Vermont’s choice of indicators, emphasis on the growth of all students, and system of identifying comprehensive support schools are all promising.


  • In particular, Vermont has successfully broadened the definition of school quality to include science, physical education and health, and measures of college and career readiness — while still using a relatively small number of high-quality indicators that will focus schools on what is most important to the state.


  • The state’s goals and indicators appear to be backed by strong assessments and standards.


  • Vermont uses its ESSA flexibility in creative ways to attempt to hold schools accountable for students who would otherwise be overlooked. Finally, Vermont’s decision to incorporate both a school’s current score and its year-to-year change in a matrix approach is creative and will help the state identify the schools that are struggling the most.




  • Although Vermont is working to translate its plan for educators and parents, the overall complexity of its proposed system may challenge some stakeholders to understand the performance of their local schools.


  • While Vermont’s matrix approach holds promise, it also relies on a number of arbitrary cut points that will be difficult for educators or the public to interpret.


  • Vermont’s system is also heavily weighted toward student growth at the exclusion of proficiency. Absent some checks against proficiency, it could leave low performers behind.


  • More worrisome is the fact that Vermont’s plan may ultimately mask the performance of low-performing subgroups of students. Due to its small size and lack of racial diversity, Vermont proposes an “equity index” as a way to incorporate subgroup performance, but it does not show data on how that decision will affect schools in the state.


  • Vermont’s plan to support low-performing schools is not clear in how it will develop a menu of evidence-based strategies linked to needs assessments of these schools.


  • As the state moves forward, it should also consider how it will learn from implementation and make adjustments moving forward, particularly with respect to interventions in its low-performing schools.


Click through the tabs on the left to see how Vermont scored in each category.



Despite lacking a vision statement, Vermont established long-term goals that are set to a nine-year time frame.


By 2025, Vermont wants its schools to have an average scale score that is at the midpoint of the proficiency range for each grade level they serve for both English language arts and mathematics. The goal applies to all subgroups of students in both subjects, but the midpoint of the proficiency range may not be an ambitious target for all groups of students.


The state’s plan lacks targets for students meeting grade-level standards.


ESSA allows states to use other measures of achievement in their accountability system, and Vermont can certainly add other goals if it chooses, but ESSA specifically requires states to set proficiency goals.


Vermont’s graduation goal is not very ambitious.


Vermont’s graduation goal is for 100 percent of schools to have 90 percent of their students graduate within four years and 100 percent of students within six years. The four-year graduation goal is not very ambitious because the state’s current four-year graduation rate is close to 88 percent. Vermont’s use of an additional six-year graduation rate should help drive improvements for students who may take longer than four years to graduate.



Vermont is clearly focused on college and career readiness across multiple subject areas.  


Vermont adopted and implemented the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. It also administers the Smarter Balanced assessment and plans to use a future science assessment developed by a consortium of states.


The state is also in the process of developing a science assessment to be used as one of its accountability indicators, and for English language learners it is using the ACCESS assessment, which is also a high-quality assessment aligned to rigorous English-language proficiency standards.


In addition, for the 1 percent of students with the most severe cognitive disabilities, Vermont will continue using the Dynamic Learning Map.



Vermont provides an innovative approach to its school quality indicator.


The indicator includes science, physical education, career and college readiness, and postsecondary outcomes. These indicators are aligned to the state’s goals and will resonate with families concerned that a focus on math and ELA assessments could narrow the curriculum. They will incentivize schools to take a more holistic view of school quality.


The state should give stronger weight to its four-year graduation rate.


At the high school level, Vermont is proposing to calculate an overall graduation rate indicator score based on the average of four-year and six-year adjusted cohort graduation rates. The state could strengthen its plan by giving stronger weight to the four-year rate in its accountability system, and not just average the two together.


Despite its formal assessment system ending in ninth grade, Vermont’s college- and career-readiness indicator includes a wide variety of measures.


This indicator includes a wide variety of readiness measures for students who are planning different types of postsecondary pathways. Vermont gives schools a menu of options for this measure — SAT, ACT, AP, IB, CLEP, ASVAB, Industry Recognized Certificates — but the state should monitor its data to ensure all of these options are equally predictive of postsecondary success.


Vermont ignores students who have dropped out prior to graduation.


Vermont should consider using the ninth-grade cohort – instead of total graduates – in its calculations. At a minimum, Vermont should closely monitor dropout rates and the relationship between cohort graduation rates and the college-and-career-readiness measure.



Vermont’s accountability system places a strong emphasis on student growth over time.


While this can recognize schools for helping students progress, it does not place any weight on whether students are meeting the state’s standards. In particular, it uses scale scores rather than proficiency rates and includes a growth model based on how much students grow compared with their similarly performing peers. Absent some check against proficiency, the system won’t be able to recognize low performance and will not ensure all students are meeting standards.


Vermont plans to wait three years before calculating its growth model.


It is not clear why it needs to wait that long.



Vermont’s use of an equity index as an additional measure will shine a spotlight on within-school gaps between groups of students.


However, the proposed classification system is complicated, and, by focusing exclusively on school-level gaps, it might identify schools with higher overall performance.


In addition, ESSA requires states to identify for targeted support schools with any low-performing subgroups performing at the level of the bottom 5 percent of schools overall, but Vermont has not articulated how it would satisfy this requirement.


Vermont could strengthen its plan by looking at the schools with the lowest-performing historically marginalized groups in the state, or if it compared a given school’s historically marginalized group with the statewide average for historically advantaged students. Vermont could also consider incorporating its equity index into schools’ overall ratings, or incorporating subgroup performance more directly into the overall rating.



Vermont’s matrix evaluates both status and progress to identify schools for comprehensive support that are both low performing and not making progress.


Vermont’s strategy is likely to identify schools that are struggling on the most-important measures. However, the progress measure could be problematic given the limitations of the equity index as discussed above. It will be important for Vermont to clearly communicate what the various performance bands mean to schools and to run simulation data to ensure they are capturing schools most in need of support.


Additionally, Vermont’s approach to schools with large achievement gaps — targeted support schools — may not meet the full definition required by federal law.



Vermont’s approach to supporting schools isn’t rigorous and it is not clear it will lead to significant improvements.


The main action for comprehensive support schools appears to be a Continuous Improvement Plan and a state-identified menu of research-based practices, with twice-annual monitoring. The strength of the state’s plan will rest on the strength of this unknown menu. Given that these are the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state, Vermont should consider more aggressive action with these schools.


Vermont has articulated its willingness to assume administrative control or close schools, when necessary.


In the event that a school does not exit comprehensive status after six consecutive years of comprehensive identification, Vermont could require districts to pay tuition to another public or independent school, though such an intervention may not occur until the 9th year.


However, even after six years without improvement, schools could still choose only modest interventions. Moreover, Vermont has missed an opportunity to articulate a plan for how it will be using the 7 percent of its Title I dollars that are intended for school-improvement activities.


The level of support that targeted support schools will receive from the state is unclear.


Districts are responsible for supporting schools, and while the state’s plan discusses a regional approach, the state does not appear to be involved with monitoring these schools. There also does not appear to be a plan for increased support for targeted support schools if they do not improve.

Exiting Improvement Status


Vermont will use its matrix approach to identify when a school has made enough progress to exit improvement status.


The matrix allows schools to see how much progress they’ll need to make in order to exit improvement status. However, the matrix itself could be confusing to educators, and they may not be able to interpret exactly what they need to do in order to exit improvement status.


Moreover, it appears that Vermont may have set a low bar, because its proposed rules would allow a school to exit status based on the exit criteria and yet still be in the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide.

Continuous Improvement


Vermont did not include a plan for how the state will monitor ESSA implementation and ensure continuous improvement.


The state plan did show a regard for stakeholder engagement, and Vermont will be well-served by continuing that over time. To further strengthen its plan, Vermont could consider more explicitly focusing on learning from school-improvement efforts and engaging local stakeholders at the beginning of and throughout the improvement process.

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