Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Smarter Balanced test results show expected drop in proficiency

Delaware Public Media

The results of the state’s first year using the Smarter Balanced student assessment are in, but assessing how Delaware students fared and what they mean is open to interpretation.

State officials said when they announced the move to Smarter Balanced they expected proficiency rates to plummet in the first year using the new test – and they did.

Statewide proficiency in English fell just short of 52 percent – down from 72 percent in the final year of the old DCAS system.  Math proficiency was just under 39 percent – 30 points below the 69 percent measured by DCAS a year ago.

But Gov. Jack Markell and Education Secretary Mark Murphy argue there’s no comparison between DCAS – a bubble test – and the more rigorous Smarter Balanced – which requires written essays and math work to be shown.

They choose instead to compare this year’s scores to projections based on a 2014 field test of Smarter Balanced in 21 states – including Delaware.  Using that yardstick , First State students exceeded expectations.  In English, all 7 grades tested topped projected scores and in Math, 6 of 7 grades topped predicted scores.

Delve into State, District and School Smarter balanced proficiency and participation rates here

But when pressed if he was troubled by that 39 percent math proficiency, which included only 23 percent of high school juniors making the grade, Markell was blunt.

“Yes, I am," said Markell. "And particularly at a time when we know that we need people who are ore and more skilled to do the jobs of the future."

But the governor says stands by moving to Smarter Balanced and embracing these  numbers.

“The alternative is to not do this, and to not share the information, " Markell said. "And a dose of honesty is very much in order here.  And so we certainly want to catch this as early as possible, but it’s important that our kids and our families know where they are.”

And where are they at the district level?  Among K-12 districts, only Caesar Rodney, Cape Henlopen, and Appoquinimink exceeded 60 percent in English proficiency, while two - Laurel and Woodbridge - were below 35 percent.

In Math, only Cape Henlopen topped 50 percent proficiency, while five districts– Christina, Capital, Laurel, Seaford and Woodbridge - failed to crack 30 percent.

And at the school level – there were schools with proficiency rates in the single digits.  That group including the three Priority Schools in the Christina school district – Bayard Middle School and Stubbs and Bancroft elementary schools

But there were also schools with strong proficiency rates.  The Charter School of Wilmington, which only tested high school juniors, was over 96 percent proficient in English and Math, while Newark Charter, which tested grades 3 thru 8, hit 93 percent in English and 84 percent in math.

Murphy says DOE will look at the districts and schools that are struggling the most and how to change that.

“There will certainly be an increase in regards to how the state allocates resources [to struggling districts]," said Murphy. "And that’s really part of the value here – is let’s understand which districts and schools have the greatest struggles and let’s make sure we as a state are able to allocate resources to those students that need it most.”

But Murphy says the districts need to do their part as well.

“I would also say that at the end of the day, we know and we expect and we hope that all of our district leaders, our educators and our school leaders, especially in our most struggling districts, are taking a very hard look at this information and are able to change the way that they teach, and are able to improve the services that they provide for their students," Murphy said.

Murphy adds that while this test takes longer to grade than traditional bubble test, and there was some delay this year because it was year one, he expects to have results available earlier in the future.  But he did note districts got their results over a week ago and had them in hand as they prepped for the new school year. 

And despite a growing movement to allow parents to opt their kids out of the new test last spring, Murphy says the state reached the federally mandated 95 participation rate – with Christina the only k-to-12 district to come up short at 92 percent – joined by New Castle and Polytech Vo-tech districts, who each had 94 percnet participation

Murphy says discussion of what consequences districts that fail to reach 95 percent participation may face are ongoing and depends in part on what the state is told by the U.S Department of Education.

Murphy says Delaware ultimately wound up in the middle of the pack among the states using Smarter Balanced – and trends seen were consistent from state to state.

And now its up to the state, its schools and its educators to put this new baseline to use to get its children on the right track

“If you think about it like a ladder, I want to know if my sixth grader is on track for those sixth grade standards – and then seventh grade, eighth grade, and right on up," said Murphy. "And so what we’re doing is providing a snapshot, but a really solid snapshot for all of our parents, our educators and our students themselves about whether they are on track for college and career readiness.

The full test results will be presented to the State Board of Education later this month and parents will get their child’s individual test results in the next couple of weeks.

Tom Byrne has been a fixture covering news in Delaware for three decades. He joined Delaware Public Media in 2010 as our first news director and has guided the news team ever since. When he's not covering the news, he can be found reading history or pursuing his love of all things athletic.
Related Content