New Scoring Scale Causes Boost in North Carolina Test Scores

In Raleigh, North Carolina, students’ standardized test scores rose due in part to a new scoring scale that makes the test easier to pass.  The statewide overall passing rate was 56.3% compared with last year’s passing rate of 44.7%.

Lynn Bonner and T.Keung Hui, writing for Raleigh’s News and Observer, say the results are from end-of-grade tests in reading and math in third through eighth grades, science tests for fifth and eighth grades, and end-of-course tests in three high school subjects.

The tests are based on the Common Core standards in English and math and state standards in other subjects.  Last year’s scoring system, based on a four-level scale, was changed this year to a five-level scale by the State Board of Education.  The change made the test easier to pass.

Third-graders who do not pass the end-of-school test may be retained, and schools will be rated A to F based on the students’ tests.  This year will be the first time for schools to be rated in this manner.  Although the grades do not carry any policy significance, the state Department of Public Instruction is not going to release the grades until early next year.

Students who scored a level 3 are considered to be ready for the next grade, but not on track for careers or college.  With help, these students can be coached and will, hopefully, improve their college and career readiness.

“Greater attention to individual student needs coupled with a focus on college and career readiness for our students continues to push our graduation rate steadily upward over time,” assistant superintendent for data, Brad McMillen said. “We’re not where we need to be on that metric, but we are steadily improving.”

During the state Board of Education meeting, A.L. Collins, board member from Kernersville, asked for clarification, reported Jonathan Drew of the Associated Press.

“I think we need to have some way, No. 1, of comparing last year and, No. 2, I think we need to be able to evaluate whether this descriptor is actually achieving what we are wanting it to achieve. And I don’t have a particular answer or concern other than just a lot of questions about what we do with that this year.”

Tammy Howard, the Department of Public Instruction’s testing expert, answered by saying:

“Comparing it to last year is really not that productive. The true comparison will come at the end of this year.”
About 68% of students were found to be proficient in science shown by scores on tests given in grades 5 and 8.  As for the end-of-school tests, 61% of juniors who took the ACT met requirements for admission to the state university system, which was a small increase from last year’s percentage.
Graduation numbers rose as well.  In 2014, 84% of students finished high school in four years or less.

Henderson County Public Schools (HCPS) had 64% of students meeting or surpassing the state proficiency standard in all subjects, along with 64% of students in Mountain Community School (MCS), a charter school in Hendersonville, writes the Times-News Online. Henderson County’s and Mountain Community School’s statistics include:

• 64% of HCPS, 71.9%  of MCS students scored at Achievement Level 3 or higher in reading, compared to the statewide score of 56.3%

• 58.7% of students in county schools exceeded state standards in math, compared to 51% statewide

• 50% of MCS students scored Achievement Level 3 or above in math

• 77.5% of the charter schools’ students scored at Achievement Level 3 or above in science, as did 76.4% of HCPS students

• Scores for the end-of-course high school tests showed 65%of HCPS students were proficient in English II, Math I and Biology; 55% scored at level 4 or 5

At Brunswick County Public Schools, math and overall student learning growth are two areas that need improving, according to Janae Frazier of WECT TV.  Less than half the students were proficient in math compared to 50% statewide.  Reading scores improved slightly, and fifth and eighth grade students scored 10 points higher than they did last year in science.

The Biology scores were at 55% proficiency, which was higher than the statewide score of just above 50%.  19 of Brunswick County’s schools failed to achieve their growth target.

“Well, that’s disappointing,” Brunswick County Schools Superintendent Ed Pruden explained. “We did have two more schools exceed growth, which is a very fine achievement. But we really feel like every school and every teacher should show a year’s worth of growth for a year’s worth of time in school and we really need to drill down into the data at the ten schools that did not meet growth and find out where the weak spots are.”