2019 Legislative Session — Week 6 Update

We’ve had a lot of business before the House Education Committee. The first weeks of session focused on the implementation of Act 46, Vermont’s school merger law. The Education Committee eventually advanced a proposal to the floor to address the thorny issue of whether or not a 1-year delay should be provided to communities who did not feel able to merge successfully by July 1. This debate consumed the Committee’s time into the first week of February, when a compromise bill finally passed the House.

As we move toward March, the Committee has had more time to get updates about different initiatives. This week, we took testimony that spanned topics including higher education, afterschool programming, proficiency based grading, and testing our schools for lead and radon. The range of topics are indicative of the different policies and bills before the Committee.

One of the main topics we’ve been looking at is the 2020 date that the Vermont State Board of Education has put forward in which schools must implement proficiency based standards and grading. Vermont has been pursuing personalized learning since 2014, when Act 77 passed. The law set forth several initiatives: 1) personalized learning plans, 2) flexible pathways, and 3) proficiency based education. Because Vermont has a local control education delivery system, personalization of learning is being implemented locally. This has resulted in variance in the way personalized learning is being implemented in different schools across the state.

Over the last several years, I’ve heard a range of feedback from community members. Some educators have contacted me to request more time to implement proficiency based grading. I’ve heard these concerns echoed by several parents and students. On the other hand, I’ve also heard from supporters of the shift from letter grading to proficiencies. At the local level, staff from the Essex Westford School District provided testimony to the Committee last year, detailing how they’re making the shift to personalized learning.

As we ask our schools to transform their classrooms to personalize them to student needs, the Education Committee will need to assess how these shifts fit in with the major transformations that are already underway. Vermont school systems are currently implementing universal PreK (Act 166 of 2014), mergers and governance change (Act 46 of 2015), and special education reform (Act 173 of 2018). These reforms entail significant work. Having worked on Act 173 last year, I believe reworking our special education delivery and funding systems is, perhaps, the most important initiative underway. The Committee will need to decide if we want to give more time for personalized learning as local schools and school districts work through landmark changes.