Rebecca Holcombe

Recent Posts

Holcombe to stay at Agency of Education

MONTPELIER — Republican Gov. Phil Scott announced Monday that he is re-appointing Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe, who was previously appointed by former Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin. Holcombe is the final cabinet-level appointment for Scott, who took office on Jan. 5. Scott had asked the State Board of Education to launch a search for an education secretary as part of the transition from the Shumlin administration to the Scott administration. The board provided the governor with three recommendations, including Holcombe, who was first appointed by Shumlin in January 2014. Continue Reading →

Filed under: , , , , , ,

Lawmakers talk school choice and district mergers

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers and members of the public are calling for greater guarantees to preserve school choice. On Thursday, the House School Choice Caucus called for a clarification of Act 46 — the 2015 school district merger law — as it relates to towns that offer school choice. “In the long run, we’re seeing Act 46 create a lot of confusion and we’re here today to give a voice to that confusion,” said Rep. Vicki Strong, R-Irasburg. Unlike many caucuses, the House School Choice Caucus does not reflect a partisan divide based on political affiliation, but based on the size of the community, with nearly all of the caucus members hailing from small towns. “There’s a real need for leadership in directing our choice towns to keep this tradition and this very important issue with schools,” said Rep. Linda Martin, D-Wolcott. Continue Reading →

Filed under: , , , , , ,

Education officials call for study of state’s pre-K and dual enrollment programs

MONTPELIER — Education officials are calling for an examination of the state’s pre-K and dual enrollment programs so more low-income children can take advantage of them. The State Board of Education is asking lawmakers to look at the unintended consequences of programs that are intended to provide for greater educational equity, but are being utilized more frequently middle-class and affluent families than those living in poverty. William Mathis, chairman of the board’s Legislative Committee, made it clear the board supports the initiatives that are intended to expend pre-K education and allow high school students to take college courses, but is concerned the programs might not be reaching the students who need them most. “We strongly support both dual enrollment and preschool enrollment. These are some of the most important programs we have to promote equity,” Mathis said. Continue Reading →

Filed under: , , ,

Retirements impact Agency of Education

MONTPELIER — The Agency of Education is reviewing its priorities and deciding what services it will no longer be able to offer after losing staff members to a retirement incentive program. As the agency works to implement Act 46, the state’s new school district merger law, it is doing so with five fewer members of its staff, which will leave the agency unable to provide the same services it has in the past, says Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe. “There are some things we’re just not going to be able to do,” Holcombe said Tuesday during the monthly meeting of the State Board of Education. “We’ll just have to be highly strategic in how we target our staff.”

Earlier this year, the Shumlin Administration proposed offering financial incentives to encourage employees who were eligible to retire to do so, part of an effort to balance the 2016 state budget. The offer was open to as many as 300 employees and was projected to save as much as $2.6 million dollars, with the plan contingent upon the requirement that 75 percent of the positions being vacated would remain unfilled. Continue Reading →

Filed under: , , , , ,

School test scores show decline in proficiency

BARRE — Education officials are warning the public not to jump to any conclusions just because the latest K-12 standardized test scores show a decline in proficiency. On Monday, the Agency of Education released scores for the newest incarnation of standardized testing known as the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), which is intended to measure proficiency of students in grades three through eight — and grade 11 — the fields of math and English. Overall, proficiency in English ranged from a low of 51 percent in grade four to 58 percent in 11th grade. Math scores, on the other hand, showed a near-steady decline across grades, from 52 percent proficient in grade three to 37 percent in grade 11. These scores are lower than those from the last round of testing, said Michael Hock, director of assessment for the Agency of Education. Continue Reading →

Filed under: , , , , ,

Federal lawmakers eye changes to standardized testing in schools

WASHINGTON — Education officials in Vermont are pleased with a step taken by Congress to reduce the high-stakes standardized testing provisions under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Thursday, U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions gave preliminary approval to the Every Child Achieves Act, which would give more authority to states to decide how to evaluate their schools, and would replace the current law that has led to nearly every school in Vermont to be identified as failing. U.S. Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., who serves on the Senate committee, said the annual standardized tests taken by Vermont’s children in grades three through 11 do not fully capture what a child is learning in school. “I think it is wrong to judge schools solely on the basis of narrow tests. We have to work on what kind of criteria we really need,” Sanders said. Continue Reading →

Filed under: , , , , ,

State takes another step away from standardized testing

MONTPELIER — Vermont will not use its newly implemented standardized testing system to evaluate the state’s K-12 schools. Earlier this week, the State Board of Education voted to not use the results from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium — or SBAC — as the basis for its annual report on school performance to the federal government. The SBAC, a computerized test that students — many for the first time — began taking Tuesday, replaces the New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP, which for years provided the annual data on school performance required under the federal “No Child Behind” act, often referred to derisively by educators and administrators as “No Child Left Untested.”

In the spring of 2014, nearly 30 schools took the SBAC test as part of a pilot program. Aside from this handful of students, most will be seeing the new test for the first time this spring. In theory, the SBAC test will do a better job of measuring the Common Core State Standards adopted by the state in 2010. Continue Reading →

Filed under: , , , , ,

Agency of Education criticizes consolidation study

BARRE — The Agency of Education is criticizing a recent study that suggests the consolidation of schools and districts will not save money or provide better outcomes for students. Last week, Daniella Hall and Ian Burfoot-Rochford, researchers at Penn State University, released a study titled “Vermont Educational Reform: A Balanced Approach to Equity and Funding.” Burfoot-Rochford is a Vermont native and a former elementary school teacher in Cabot, while Hall hails from Maine, which in recent years has undergone statewide school district consolidation. The study asserts that, “Drawing from over a century of research on the outcomes of district and school consolidation, we found no evidence that consolidation will produce beneficial or educational outcomes for Vermont.”

Wednesday, the Agency of Education offered a rebuttal — authored by Secretary Rebecca Holcombe and Wendy Geller, data administration director for the agency — that questions the authors’ interpretation of the data they used for their study. “We feel compelled to respond, because with respect to school and district size, this report seriously misrepresents much of the peer-reviewed research on which it claims to be based,” states the rebuttal from the Agency of Education. “Because it overgeneralizes and oversimplifies, we are concerned this report does a disservice to the powerful conversations some of our school boards and communities are having about how they can ensure stability for their schools and children – both the ones they serve today and the ones they are likely to serve in the future.”

Holcombe and Geller note that the research cited in the study actually supports the notion that consolidation will save money and result in better educational outcomes. Continue Reading →

Filed under: , , , , , , ,