MONTPELIER — Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe has announced the results for the 2016-2017 Smarter Balanced Assessments for math and English, and according to the Agency of Education, student scores have dipped since last year.
The test is unique in that it is a “computer adaptive test,” meaning students take it online and question difficulty adapts to each successive answer given. When a students gets an answer wrong, an easier question will follow, and vice versa.
According to a news release put out by the agency, an adaptive test “means the test can provide a more precise measure of what students can and cannot do.”
Test questions were developed through a collaborative effort of 15 states, the Virgin Islands, and the Bureau of Indian Education. The material is ultimately based on the newly adopted Common Core curriculum, which 46 states have adopted since 2013, with about a dozen since considering legislation to repeal.
Students in grades three through eight and grade 11 took the test during the spring. The purpose of the test is to understand where students are in math and English in relation to the Common Core standards, which are considered to be relatively high.
“Over time, the results will provide community members, teachers and parents with an increasingly reliable and accurate snapshot of children’s mastery of these standards as well as the progress of our schools at improving the performance of our students relative to these standards,” the agency said in the news release.
So far, it’s not clear why there was a dip in performance. Even so, Holcombe downplayed the sagging performance.
“The relationship between strong academic skills and financial security and well-being is stronger than it has ever been, regardless of whether our students are headed to careers or college when they graduate,” she said in a statement.
“Tests don’t measure everything that matters to a happy and successful life, including our ability to participate in democratic life, but there is no path to prosperity for students who don’t master reading, writing and mathematics.”
The average math and English scores for all grades last year were 45.43 percent and 56.43 percent proficient respectively. That’s compares to this year’s math and English averages of 43.14 percent to 54.86 percent respectively, or about a 2 percentage point drop for each.
(Full test results can be found here.)
Proficiency means the percentage of students that scored above what the state considers as “proficient.” These numbers do not account for how much better or worse students did in relation to that proficiency mark.
Deputy Education Secretary Amy Fowler offered her thoughts on the low marks.
“We can’t know for sure why scores declined, but several factors could contribute,” she said. “It could be in the last year people were focused on issues other than assessment. It could be as people are moving to implement the Education Quality Standards and other initiatives, attention has been diverted from improving learning, or any other number of factors.”
In math, the proficiency rates generally decline from lower to higher grades, starting at 52 percent for third-graders and just 37 percent for 11th-graders.
The numbers were better across the board for English, with a low of 49 percent proficient for third-graders and a high of 59 percent for grade 11.
There were other patterns among race and gender, such as Asians on average scored the highest and blacks on average had some of the lower scores.
There were gender differences too, girls were on average about 10 percent more proficient than boys. (Click here for results by race/ethnicity, gender and other characteristics.)
One of the most telling trends is family income. Students on free or reduced lunch programs were among the lowest scoring of all the groups at just around 20 to 40 percent range in proficiency. Grade 11 students in the program scored just 17 percent proficient in math.
“The number of states using either Smarter Balanced or PARCC (another assessment for Common Core) as state-wide assessments has dwindled from 45 to 20 states and the District of Columbia,” Truth In American Education blogger Shane Vander Hart reported in May.