In the first Common Core test results, Louisiana students scored well below the state’s long-range achievement goals.
However, state Superintendent of Education John White told reporters Monday that the results are in line with how students fared on key previous exams and can pave the way for better outcomes in the classroom.
“The results are not surprising,” White said. “The real question ahead of us is not did our students significantly change but how will we change as adults in using the tests.”
The Common Core, which is in its second year in classrooms, represents revamped academic benchmarks in reading, writing and math.
Student scores are divided into five achievement levels: advanced, mastery, basic, approaching basic and unsatisfactory.
The state is gradually replacing basic — partial readiness — with mastery — fully ready for education after high school — as the barometer for annual school letter grades.
But the initial results show that just 22 percent to 40 percent of students in grades three through eight achieved mastery. Only 22 percent of seventh-graders did so in math, while 40 percent of eighth-graders reached the new target in English/language arts.
Most of the other results in both subjects were in the high 20s and middle 30s, with students generally faring better on English than math.
White said initial Common Core scores dovetailed with how students usually did on the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program, a state test that measured math and English skills, and the nation’s report called NAEP.
Common Core critics said the scores point up a need to make wholesale changes in the long-controversial standards.
“The results show this five-year experiment is not working,” said state Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, a longtime critic of the benchmarks and the sponsor of a new state law that requires that they be reviewed.
“We can spin the results and manipulate the data, or we can admit we need to go in a different direction with standards and testing,” Geymann said in a text message in response to questions.
In a key vote, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Tuesday is set to decide whether to go along with the scoring levels White backs.
They would allow comparison of scores with about five million students in 10 other states and the District of Columbia.
When those comparisons would happen is unclear.
And the debate may spark controversy at BESE, especially since it will take place just 11 days before the Oct. 24 primary with eight BESE seats on the ballot.
School scores are scheduled for release the week of Oct. 19.
Students and families will get individual results the week of Nov. 9.
Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said there is wide agreement on raising the academic bar.
The stumbling block, hesaid, is the department’s refusal to turn over test questions, information on how “raw” scores are converted to achievement categories and other data.
“What is there to hide?” Richard asked.
About 320,000 students in grades three through eight took the tests in March and May.
White said last month that the results would be “sobering.”
But he said Monday that the scores represent a baseline that will gradually make students in Louisiana more competitive with those in other states rather than relying on artificially low achievement levels.
In 2017, the state will increasingly start giving schools and districts higher marks when students achieve mastery rather than basic levels.
Eventually, A-rated schools will need to have mastery as their average performance, not basic, as is the case today.
Hollis Milton, superintendent of the highly rated West Feliciana Parish school system and president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said he is aiming for the top achievement level — advanced — in his district.
However, he said, concerns remain about the exam, and officials need to “dig a little deeper to see if we trust the validity of it.”
The test results are the latest turn in a controversy that has gone on for over two years and sparked battles in the Legislature, courts and BESE.
Even when and how the scores would be made public have triggered arguments. White has said the timeline for making the results public has been known for 11 months.
However, some local school superintendents have accused White and the state Department of Education of needlessly sitting on the scores when they could be used to help students now.
“This did not give us timely feedback,” Milton said.
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