Measures of Success
Valley New School’s success is measured in numerous ways. VNS students take the WKCE tests and their results are generally at or above the averages for the Appleton Area School District. Since our population is low (64 total students) and the number of tests taken at any grade level has never exceeded 16, the use of small-sample test results must be approached with caution. In the fall of 2004, VNS 8th graders had a composite score for the five subtests of 3483 (76.2% Proficient/Advanced), slightly below the district composite of 3485 (76.8% P/A). Two years later, in the fall of 2006, VNS 10th graders had a composite score of 2505 (78.6% Proficient/Advanced), substantially above the district composite of 2469 (72.4% P/A). VNS administers STAR MATH and STAR READING tests, from Renaissance Learning, as placement and diagnostic tools, as well as an indicator of progress. From initial tests taken in 2003 to the latest test in 2008, Scaled Scores for students who took both a pre and post-test rose from 810 to 868. This represents an increase in Percentile Rank from 57 to 62 and an improvement in NCE (National Curve Equivalent) from 54 to 57. Both the WKCE and Star Math/Reading demonstrate a longitudinal improvement in student achievement.
As an EdVisions (grantee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) school, VNS participates each year in the Hope Study. This survey tests attitude and motivation as connected with autonomy, belongingness, and control. Hope Scale scores correlate positively with measures of dispositional optimism, self-esteem, and problem-solving ability; and correlate negatively with measures of depression and hopelessness. Valley New School scores rank among the top EdVisions schools and, in fact, in the top 10% of over 200 schools nationally that receive funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. VNS students had ratings of “outstanding” or “very good” in measures of Autonomy, Advisor Academic Support, Goal Orientation, and Engagement.
Valley New School has graduated 27 students in the past three years. 59% (16) have gone into 4-year university programs, 15% (4) are in two-year/technical college programs, 22% (6) are employed full-time and 4% (1) is in the military. VNS students have averaged 22.7 on the ACT, slightly above the 22.4 average for the Appleton Area School District. While not all VNS students choose college as a post-graduation path, those that do are admitted and remain successful at numerous public and private institutions.
Most important to the philosophy of VNS, is student success evident in what they do. Over time, students show immense growth in time-management and goal-setting skills, as well as mastery of the research process and its subskills. VNS has made a positive difference in every student’s life and those changes can be seen almost daily. By senior year, students are ready and able to engage in the Senior Research Project—a comprehensive endeavor that requires a minimum of 300 hours of documented work. Several products must be developed to be presented to the entire community in a formal atmosphere. Following a 30-45 minute oral presentation, the student must field a 15 minute long question and answer period from the audience and, at a later date, be evaluated on a three-section, 15-part rubric. It is similar to the writing and defense of a master’s thesis and is designed to demonstrate mastery of the project process. All Senior Projects have been impressive in both content and delivery. One senior, studying global poverty, was so struck by what he saw on a trip to Haiti, that upon return, he raised over $8000 to build and staff an elementary school in the Caneille province. This was, of course, an extraordinary opportunity, but one that would have been unlikely in a traditional school. While every VNS student does not make this big a splash, the range of activities and investigations is individually and overall impressive.
Regardless of supposed “ability” or the nature of their studies, each VNS student graduates with the skills to be a “purposeful adult.” The skills discovered in themselves, while often not those rewarded in traditional schools, are developed and used to enrich their projects and serve to empower their future planning. They can research, analyze, write, and speak. Setting goals, charting a course, and reflecting on progress and process are routine activities that position VNS students for success after high school regardless of their path.