Roughly Half of Delaware Students Proficient at Reading, Math

(Photo: Tim Lewis, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Tim Lewis, Creative Commons)

Delaware students took their second year of the state's controversial standardized testing regime and performed better than they did last year — but only approximately half are proficient in English and math.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA) was given to students in grades three to eight and can now be used to see how students are adjusting to the exam that aligns with Common Core standards. Delaware adopted Common Core in 2010, as did most other states. Integrating the standards has been a struggle.

Saranac Hale Spencer of The New Journal reports that Delaware and 14 other states decided to use the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which met with opposition from segments of the public and education field. Last year's scores were similar in all the states using the SBA, but some states have not yet reported their most recent rankings.

The Delaware results released by the Delaware Department of Education showed that last year 52% of students were proficient in English and 41% were proficient in math. This year 55% were proficient in English and 44% were proficient in math.

Michael Watson, the chief academic officer at the Department of Education, said the numbers were encouraging, but not satisfying. But Vice President for Advocacy for the Delaware Parent Teacher Association Yvonne Johnson said:

"If there were a 50 percent increase in student achievement, that would be something to celebrate. This shows that we're teaching to the [Smarter Balanced Assessment]."

Also, for the first time this year, the SAT was given to 11th graders in place of the SBA. The proficiency levels on the SAT were on the low end, too. Fifty-three percent scored at the proficient level or better in English, and only 31% met the proficient level for math.

"None of us are satisfied with where we are as a system, but Delaware is on the right trajectory, the right path and we are going to continue to move," Watson said.

To be considered "college or career ready," the College Board, which administers the SAT, looks for scores of 480 for English and 530 for math out of a possible 800. These scores mean that a student is 75% more likely to get at least a C in a first-semester college course related to these two subjects, says James Dawson for Delaware Public Media.

Students from low-income families, students with disabilities, those who are English language learners, and most racial subgroups were also part of the improved results. Most of these pupils are "continuing their proficiency in math and English," says the report.

"What is most exciting about this year's results is the strong progress made by students across the board, including those from groups that traditionally have performed at lower levels than their peers," said Secretary of Education Steve Gadowsky in a statement.

Over the next few weeks, the Department of Education will use a new tool to explain students' performance to their parents. The communication will include how young people scored on various aspects of each subject area and how they are advancing. Guides will be distributed to help families understand how students can continue to learn at home, according to Zoe' Read of NewsWorks.

Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System results were also released last week, and the scores remained at about the same level as the previous years' scores. The DCAS social studies tests are taken by 4th- and 7th-graders, and the science test is given to only 5th-, 8th-, and 10th-graders. The progress made on this instrument does not involve the same students as those who took the SBA, reports Ashton Brown of Delaware State News.

Between 2012 and 2016, pupils alternated between 59% and 69% proficiency on the 4th-grade social studies component and 60% and 57% for 7th-grade social studies.

During that same time, 5th-grade science proficiency scores bounced between 47% and 52% , between 49% and 51% for 8th-grade science, and 42% and 46% for 10th-grade.

"We are aware that these numbers aren't showing a consistent increase in proficiency across all grades," Mr. Watson said.

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