Delaware scores slip on national exam

 (<a href=''>Photo</a> via ShutterStock)

(Photo via ShutterStock)

Delaware students scored significantly worse on a nationally administered standardized test–the first such decline in decades.

Results from the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, which were released Wednesday, show Delaware fourth and eighth graders fared worse in reading and math than they did when scores were last posted in 2013.

Delaware was one of just eight states where math scores fell in fourth and eighth grade. It was one of five states where eighth grade reading scores fell, but fourth grade results stayed about even. Only one state, Maryland, saw reading scores dip significantly in fourth and eighth grade.

The number of Delaware fourth graders deemed proficient in math fell five percentage points, from 42 percent to 37 percent. Math proficiency for Delaware eighth graders dropped three precentage points.

2013 (% proficient) 2015 (% proficient) % Point Change
4th Grade — Math 42 37 -5
8th Grade — Math 33 30 -3
4th Grade — Reading 38 37 -1
8th Grade — Reading 33 31 -2

State officials say it’s too early to draw broad conclusions from the new test scores. They point out that Delaware switched to new, tougher curricular standards in 2010 by adopting the Common Core State Standards, and that big changes often come with growing pains.

“You never want to see scores go down, but it’s hard to know what to make of it yet,” said Michael Watson, the state’s Chief Academic Officer, in a statement. “We’ve just had a tremendous shift in standards and curriculum. That may explain why we are seeing a dip not only in Delaware but across the country.”

Others, though, say the new scores point to larger failures in Delaware’s education policies.

“It’s distubting information,” said State Representative John Kowalko, D-Newark. “I think it reflects on the education reform movement.”

Kowalko, a prominent critic of the Delaware Department of Education, said the NAEP scores are a reliable indicator because the test has been given over a number of years and because students don’t specifically prepare for it.

Known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” the NAEP test is admnistered every two years to a random sampling of public- and private-school students. In the past, Delaware students typically held steady or made gains in both reading and math. This year’s results mark the first significant decline in every grade and subject area since the test was first administered in 1990.

The results also mean Delaware will come up well short on the ambitious goals laid out in its application to win Race to the Top funds from the federal government.

In that proposal, Delaware leaders said that 60 percent of fourth graders would reach proficiency in math and that 55 percent of Delaware students would attain proficiency in each of the other three tested categories. The grant expired earlier this year.

The 2015 returns will be the last of Governor Jack Markell’s tenure.

Markell has earned plaudits from some for challenging the educational status quo by demanding accountability for schools and teachers. Others say his agressive reforms have been too heavy-handed. The NAEP results during Markell’s time in Dover sugest his interventions have made little impact, at least so far.

Delaware’s NAEP scores in 2015 are roughly the same as those tabulated in 2009, the year Markell took office. 

2009 (% proficient) 2015 (% proficient) % Point Change
4th Grade — Math 36 37 1
8th Grade– Math 32 30 -2
4th Grade — Reading 35 37 2
8th Grade — Reading 31 31 0


This story will be updated as the day progresses.

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