End-of-grade test scores drop sharply in Caldwell, across N.C.

Nov. 08, 2013 @ 06:15 AM

New end-of-grade tests based on a new curriculum resulted in sharply lower scores by students in Caldwell County and across the state, according to data released by the state Department of Public Instruction on Thursday.

But Caldwell and state officials say they expect the scores to rise next year.

“The reality is, you can’t really compare last year’s scores to this year’s,” Superintendent Steve Stone said. “These are apples and oranges.”

In Caldwell County, 43.4 percent of students scored as “proficient” on the tests at the end of the 2012-13 school year, the first end-of-grade tests aligned to the new Common Core curriculum and the state’s new READY school-accountability model. Statewide, 44.7 percent of students scored at the proficient level.

The previous year, using the old tests, 77.8 percent of Caldwell County students rated proficient on end-of-grade exams in reading, compared to 71.2 percent across the state, and 87.3 percent were proficient in math, compared to the state average of 82.8.

The state Board of Education adopted the READY model in 2008. It replaced the ABCs of Public Education, North Carolina’s first school-accountability model, and came with an overhaul of curriculum and assessments.

Officials say the drop in test scores can be attributed partly to teachers being unfamiliar with the new assessments students would be taking, and partly to the new curriculum – the Common Core State Standards in English/Language Arts and math, and the new N.C. Essential Standards in other subjects – being more rigorous and more in-depth.

This year’s tests had a stronger focus on critical thinking, said Caryl Burns, the district’s associate superintendent for educational program services. Instead of using only multiple-choice questions, some sections of the test required written answers.

“In this testing, the students have to take the information in the question and be able to think and manipulate the information,” Burns said. “We’ve talked about it for years: We need to teach our children how to think. Here are the test questions, now, that you have to think through in order to answer.”

Both local and state administrators worked in recent months to prepare parents – and critics – for the drop in scores they expected was coming. Stone and members of the Caldwell County Board of Education have spoken with groups around the county, outlining the changes in curriculum and assessments.

Stone met with principals when the district received preliminary test scores, preparing them for the drop and the questions they are likely to receive from parents. And at the school board’s Nov. 4 meeting, Stone cautioned parents in attendance that the scores would be “a whole different ball game” but “nothing to worry about.”

This summer, State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson met with various newspaper editorial boards to talk about the anticipated decline. Andd staff with the Department of Public Instruction used the same phrase Stone did to describe comparisons between scores: “apples to oranges.”

Caldwell officials say that as teachers adjust to the new tests, scores will rise.

“The students will do much better when the teachers have adjusted to it and the students have, too,” Burns said. “We knew what was coming, we had prepared for it, but it’s always hard for us when we’re not making 80, 90 percent – because we know we’ve given it the effort and we do know the students are capable.”

Stone said he doesn’t expect test scores to reach 2011-12 levels in 2013-14, but he expects “solid gains."