Standardized test scores drop slightly

DOVER — Less than half of Delaware students in grades three through eight in public schools are at grade level in math and slightly more than 50 percent are where they should be in English language arts, according to 2018 standardized test scores.

Released Wednesday by the Delaware Department of Education, the scores were mostly down from the year before.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment, now in its fourth year as the First State’s standardized test, saw 54 percent of students demonstrate proficiency in English language arts and 44 percent test as proficient in math. The former number is the same as the year before, while math was down 1 percent.

Scores on the assessment are generally up since the test began in 2015.

The assessment is given to students in grade three through eight. They should receive their results in the mail next week.

While a different test is used to measure high school juniors’ progress, the results were similar there: The percentage of 11th graders testing as proficient dropped this year in all three categories used.

Twenty-eight percent were proficient in math, 50 percent were proficient in evidence-based reading and writing and 40 percent were proficient on the essay portion. All of those saw a decrease in success rates this year, and essay scores dropped precipitously from 2017, when 53 percent tested as qualified.

Juniors were initially part of the grades that took the Smarter Balanced Assessment, but the state began utilizing the SAT instead in 2016.

Despite the decline, the Department of Education still touted the scores as largely favorable, noting Smarter Balanced scores for most districts have risen since 2015.

“Our educators and students worked hard to achieve these successes,” Secretary of Education Susan Bunting said in a statement. “We’re seeing more schools and districts using tools provided by the state to help inform instruction and improve student learning. We will continue supporting our teachers so that we can collectively improve achievement levels across the state.”

Based on their scores on the Smarter Balanced test, students are grouped into four categories. A three or four demonstrates proficiency, while a one or two indicates a student is not at grade level.

Twenty-one percent of test-takers recorded a four in math, while 28 percent received a one. In English language arts, 22 percent earned a four and 23 percent were given a one.

The assessment is taken on a computer in March, April or May. Students receive different questions as the test goes on, with harder questions being worth more points.

“As students pull an item, the algorithm pulls an item for them, if they do well on it, it pulls a harder item. All within grade level but more difficult items,” Theresa Bennett, director of the agency’s Office of Assessment, said.

“If they don’t do well on it over a couple of items, then it drops back down again, so it keeps trying to find that sweet spot for the student so we can really see where they are. So, it continues to adjust all the way through the assessment.”

Statewide, math scores decreased as grade levels increased, except for seventh and eighth grade, which saw them remain the same. There was more fluctuation on the English language arts portion.

Broken down by district, Appoquinimink scored the highest in English language arts, with 69 percent of students testing as proficient. Sixty-five percent of test-takers in Caesar Rodney and Cape Henlopen scored threes or fours.

Charter results varied greatly, from 6 percent proficiency at Positive Outcomes to 91 percent as Sussex Academy.

In math, Cape Henlopen took the crown, with 57 percent of students judged as proficient. Appoquinimink and Indian River weren’t far behind, with 55 percent of their students recording threes or fours.

Among charters, less than 5 percent of students at Gateway Lab tested proficient, while 85 percent at Newark Charter did so.

Capital, Christina, Colonial, Delmar, Laurel, Red Clay and Woodbridge were below the overall average in both categories, while Milford scored worse than the statewide mean in English language arts.

White and Asian students did better on the Smarter Balanced test than the state average, while black and Hispanic students did worse, likely due to the overlap between black and Hispanic pupils and the low-income student population.

Seaford and Laurel saw jumps of 20 and 22 percentage points, respectively, in math from 2015 to 2018. Laurel also recorded a 19 point increase in English language arts proficiency since the start of the test, with Seaford experiencing a gain of 16 points.

English language arts scores for Capital have fallen since 2015, and Colonial has seen a decrease in both subjects.

On the SAT, charters dominated, with Charter School of Wilmington, Newark Charter and Sussex Academy reporting the highest scores in all three categories.

Among Kent County schools, Polytech did best in the evidence-based reading and writing and essay portions and Caesar Rodney was first in math. Lake Forest, Milford, Early College High School, Positive Outcomes Charter School and First State Military Academy were below the state average in every category, and only Caesar Rodney and Polytech passed muster in each.

“We’re seeing very little change from last year’s results, and yet state leaders want us to focus on a few pockets of growth that don’t scale up to an overall system moving in the right direction,” Atnre Alleyne, the executive director of DelawareCAN, a nonprofit focused on bettering the state’s education, said in a statement.

“Kudos to Laurel and Seaford, and to all the classrooms that show us gains are possible–especially with students that have been traditionally poorly served. But what are our state leaders doing about the schools where 5 percent of kids or less are proficient in key areas?”

The state began a new alternate assessment for students with severe disabilities this year and is set to unveil new tests for science and social studies in 2019.

While there was controversy in 2015 over some parents seeking to opt their children out of the Smarter Balanced test against the wishes of the administration (a bill to allow opting out passed the Legislature but was vetoed by then Gov. Jack Markell), participation rate exceeded 95 percent for every district.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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