Delaware students are improving their English and math performance, according to preliminary Smarter Balanced test results released Thursday.
The Delaware Department of Education reports students reaching proficiency levels increased by 2 to 5 percentage points in almost all grade levels in both subjects.
“We’re seeing positive movement in English language arts and mathematics across our entire system,” said Chief Academic Officer Michael Watson. “Not just state level results, but we’re seeing significant growth and improvement in the majority of our districts and charters and we’re seeing subgroups vastly improving from last year.”
This is the second year schools have used the Smarter Balanced testing system, which aligns with Common Core standards—and Delaware is the first state to report its Smarter Balanced scores.
Prior state required tests were primarily multiple choice, for which students could learn how to be successful test takers. Educators said even though those test scores showed students were proficient, they weren’t college-ready. Studies showed 42 percent of students took remedial courses in college.
Watson said the new testing system standards are much higher and challenges students to write and do complex problem solving.
“We’ve increased the rigor and expectations we have for kids, and teachers are receiving significant professional development,” he said. “Our teachers have worked tremendously hard, they’ve put in blood, sweat and tears, and many, many hours to understand these standards.”
Nearly 55 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 are proficient or beyond in English, compared to 52 percent last year. The increase represents 2,169 more proficient students than last year.
In math, almost 44 percent score proficient or higher, an increase from last year’s 41 percent, representing 2,139 more students than last year.
Schools in western Sussex County did particularly well. Although still lower than other districts, Seaford scores are up 11 percentage points in both subjects, while Laurel scores are up 9 percentage points in math and 8 in English.
Other low performing schools improved only slightly—Christina’s proficiency increased from 36 percent to 39 percent in English, and from 30 percent to 31 percent in math.
Already well-performing districts like Appoquinimink and Caesar Rodney also saw increases to test scores.
The majority of charter schools, nine of them, also scored higher than last year. The exceptions were Campus Comm, Gateway Lab, First State Montessori, Prestige Academy, Thomas Edison, East Side, Family Foundation and Kuumba, which all saw slight decreases in either English, math or both.
The improved results also reflect students with disabilities, English language learners, students from low-income families and most racial subgroups. Most of these students are continuing their proficiency in math and English, according to the report.
“What is most exciting about this year’s results is the strong progress made by students across the board, including those from groups that traditionally have performed at lower levels than their peers,” said Secretary of Education Steve Gadowsky in a statement.
Exceptions were English language learners in 6th and 7th grade, Hispanic students in 8th grade, Asian Americans in 3rd grade, and multiracial students in 3rd, 4th, 6th and 8th grades, which all received slightly lower proficiency scores than last year in either English, math or both, according to the report.
Although scores are improving, the Department of Education and Gov. Jack Markell, D-Delaware, said more work needs to be done. The highest score among district schools was 69 percent in English and 58 percent in math.
“We should be pleased but not satisfied with these results,” Markell said. “This progress reflects hard work by children and educators to meet higher standards as we aim to ensure every student is prepared for success in the next grade and, ultimately, after graduation. We know a lot more must be done to reach our goal and that means reaffirming our commitment to giving all students, and their teachers, the support they need to reach their potential.”
The department also released preliminary statewide results for the SATs in 11th grade. The department reports 53 percent were proficient or above in English and 31 percent proficient or above in mathematics. This was the first year the SAT was used as the state’s high school accountability test, replacing the Smarter Balanced assessment and reducing the number of standard tests students would have to take in high school.
In the coming weeks the Department of Education will also launch a new tool to communicate with parents how their children are performing in school. The redesigned reports will include information about how students scored on different aspects of each subject and how they are progressing. Guides also will be released to educate families on how students can learn at home.
“Our goal is to continue to drive the system forward,” Watson said.
“Certainly we have an opportunity under a new governor who will be elected in November and a new secretary to set those goals and expectations. This administration has done, I would argue, an incredible job of setting the stage for the next administration to continue to make those gains and improvements.”
Gov. Markell’s office originally released a statement from Markell describing his reaction to the results as “pleased, but not satisfied.” They have since said the statement “accidentally included the wrong language.” The new statement reads: “We are pleased with this progress and look forward to continuing gains. These results reflects hard work by children and educators to meet higher standards as we aim to ensure every student is prepared for success in the next grade and, ultimately, after graduation. We know a lot more must be done to reach our goal and that means reaffirming our commitment to giving all students, and their teachers, the support they need to reach their potential.”