Delaware releases state math and reading test results

Results for Delaware’s new public school student assessment testing program reveal students across the state showed growth in reading and math between fall and spring.

But the test results released by the state this afternoon in math, reading, science and social studies for students in grades 3 through 10 also raised some concerns.

The computer-based Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System (DCAS) replaced the state’s paper-and-pencil exam, the Delaware Student Testing Program (DSTP) this past school year.

One of the big differences is that students take the DCAS exams in the fall, winter and spring, giving teachers time to adjust instruction throughout the year to meet student needs. The DSTP was given just once, at the end of the school year.

“I think the students have done better than we could have expected,” said Accountability Resources Workgroup Director Michael Stetter, who announced the results to the media. “I’m very much impressed by the mathematics performance by the students. I think they came to this new assessment very well prepared by their teachers.”

On the DCAS math test, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations by the end of the year ranged from about 65 percent for 3rd graders to a little under 60 percent for 10th graders. The gains during the school year for grades 3, 4, and 5 were between 30 and 40 percent. The gains for grades 6 to 9 were between 20 and 25 percentage points, and the gain for 10th grade was 18 percentage points.

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The gains were generally lower in reading. By year’s end, about 60 percent of students at each grade met or exceeded standards. Of course that means about 40 percent did not.

“I think it is a cause for concern,” Stetter said. “We cannot have non-readers moving past third grade. This information we cannot ignore. I know districts are looking very closely at it.”

Also, across the board, scores on the DCAS are noticeably lower than the last round of DSTP scores. The reason for that, Stetter says, is that the DCAS has much higher standards. Simply put, he says, it is a tougher test, “so that students would be better prepared for college and for the workplace. So as you set higher standards within this first year, as teachers are adjusting, students are coming to grips with the need to know more, demonstrate more, it is expected that you would have a dip, a temporary dip.”

The state’s science and social studies tests also were administered online this year, though each only had one testing window. The DCAS science test results showed fewer than half of tested students meeting the standard. Science trends across districts mirrored long-term patterns seen during the DSTP years, but at a lower level likely due to the more stringent standards, according to officials.

One person who is concerned with some of the results is Education Secretary Lillian Lowery, particularly the large numbers of students not meeting standards.

“I find it abysmal,” she said. “Our commitment is to every child in every school in the state. So as long as we have one child that’s not performing we still have work to do.”

The good news, she said, is that unlike the DSTP, the new format gives teachers the data they need, three times during the year, to chart progress and correct problems.

“We get that data back in 48 hours and teachers can start individualizing instruction right away,” she said. “And then we get to check back in during the school year in a formative way to see if that student is growing and where there are still areas of needed improvement.”

Officials also agree that certain aspects of the new exam need to be tweaked. For example, it’s clear students who do not have a computer at home or are not comfortable using a computer are at a disadvantage.

And an ongoing issue will be to figure out the best way to use this new mountain of data. Lowery says so-called “data coaches” will help teachers deal with this new information on a weekly basis.

“No longer will a teacher sit in isolation and be overwhelmed,” Lowery said. “Now we can look at trends, we can look at areas of strength, areas of needed improvement and teachers can plan collaboratively and share lesson plans and critique each other, give each other ways of making instruction better.”

The results released today are preliminary. The state will issue a revised DCAS Comprehensive Report in August. Using those final results, the state will release school accountability ratings in late August. As required by the federal No Child Left Behind guidelines, 100 percent of Delaware public school students in grades 3-8 and 10, as well as each specified subgroup of students (including major race-ethnic groups, students with disabilities, English language learners) must demonstrate proficiency in reading and mathematics by 2013-14.

Parents will receive a detailed report of the test results by mail in late July.  The state of Delaware has compiled results on the state website.

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