Thursday, November 12, 2015

State releases performance test scores; minority in grades 3-8 meeting expectations

Posted By and on Thu, Nov 12, 2015 at 2:04 PM

The state Education Department today released 2014-15 scores by students in grades 3-8 on the PARCC test in math and reading.

This is the test — aligned to the maligned Common Core course guidance— in use for the first time last year and already junked. So it can'be directly compared with prior or future year scores.

As predicted when the tougher standards were put in place using a test succeeding the old Benchmark exam, scores aren't spectacular. The state this time at least avoided distributing a news release — as it did when high school scores were released — that made it appear a score of 3 on the five-point scale met sufficiency standards. This news release was accompanied by an explanatory chart that says a 3 approaches expectations; a four meets expectations, and a five exceeds academic expectations.

The chart for the state as a whole tells the story:


From a news release:

“High academic expectations are essential to preparing students for college and careers,” ADE Commissioner Johnny Key said. “The PARCC exam was the first time students have been tested on these higher academic standards, and as anticipated, the results are lower than those of the Arkansas Benchmark Exam. While some may interpret this negatively, we believe it is an important part of the process of improving learning opportunities for students.”

The department aggregates test score data here.


The state Board of Education approved cut scores for the 3-8 PARCC results today, recommended by Arkansas Department of Education (last month, the board approved cut scores for high school scores). But it also requested state board approval of the requisite cut score at which a student will be assigned an “academic improvement plan.” ADE said that such a plan should be assigned to any student who scored below a “4,” which (we now know, after much initial confusion) is the state’s threshold for determining proficiency.

“The recommendation is … every student in the state of Arkansas who scored a 1, 2 or 3 would be assigned an academic improvement plan,” said Hope Allen, the Director of Student Assessment at ADE.

Why does this matter? Well, not only will the majority of public school parents in the state soon be getting word that their child did not meet the new, elevated proficiency standards introduced by the 2014 test, they’ll also be informed the school is developing an individualized plan for raising that student’s math and/or literacy performance.

This makes sense: If a kid isn’t meeting proficiency standards, there needs to be a plan to remedy that. But it also runs the risk of alarming or upsetting some parents. A large number of these improvement plans will be assigned to kids who are used to doing well in school, and who come from families that are used to seeing As and Bs on report cards. Now some such families will be told their student is behind where he or she needs to be. Again, only about 30 percent of students in the state met the new literacy proficiency threshold. Only about 25 percent of students met the math proficiency threshold. That’s a lot of academic improvement plans statewide, and a lot of individual interventions for schools to perform and for parents (and teachers) to digest.

State board member Vicki Saviers said she was somewhat concerned about requiring academic interventions for students who were on the borderline of the proficiency cutoff. “My concern is there is a big difference between kids who are at the top of “3” and at the bottom of “3” ... I just want to make sure we're not doing more harm than good ... Secondly, I think the communication to parents is going to be critical. Parents need to understand what the expectations are for remediation.”

Board member Jay Barth (who is also a regular contributor to the Times) said, “I think it's very likely some of the most challenged districts will have the most trouble with this. … I think the next few years are going to be really challenging in a lot of ways.” But, he said, holding the line on this issue is the right approach to ensuring higher standards. “I think there is a tremendous opportunity to give every young person the individualized academic plan that they need to get over that hump.”

“So I really do applaud y’all for taking a tougher path,” Barth told the ADE staff. “You could have just focused on the 1s and 2s, but there are a lot of young people who are at that 3 level ... And I think that's our commitment under the state constitution, to make sure every kid has an adequate education.”

Allen reminded the board that “this large number of students in levels 1, 2 and 3 ... is not unexpected or unanticipated at all,” and said that state saw similarly low pass-rates the last time it instituted a major change to standardized testing.

“We did see very similar results when we started the [Arkansas] Benchmark assessment [in the early 2000s] … We saw about 80 percent of students [not meeting proficiency standards].” Those Benchmark scores have climbed dramatically in the years since. With the new PARCC test, Allen said, “we've raised the rigor ... but we do plan for our office to fully support schools in what remediation looks like for students.” (Although, as Max noted, PARCC itself has now been ditched in favor of yet another test, the ACT Aspire, which will go into use this spring.)

Here's a chart from the presentation to the state board today which breaks down student performance by score for each grade in math and ELA (English language arts). In short: the brown and purple bands are the percentages of students who met the proficiency targets.

click to enlarge parcc_3-8_for_2014.jpg

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