LOS ANGELES – Results for some of the states that participated in Common Core-aligned testing for the first time this spring are out, with overall scores higher than expected, though still below what many parents may be accustomed to seeing.
Full or preliminary scores have been released for Connecticut, Idaho, Missouri, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. They all participated in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of two groups of states awarded $330 million by the U.S. Department of Education in 2010 to develop exams to test students on the Common Core state standards in math and English language arts.
Scores in four other states that developed their own exams tied to the standards have been released. The second testing group, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, is still setting benchmarks for each performance level and has not released any results.
Even when all the results are available, it will not be possible to compare student performance across a majority of states, one of Common Core’s fundamental goals.
What began as an effort to increase transparency and allow parents and school leaders to assess performance nationwide has largely unraveled, chiefly because states are dropping out of the two testing groups and creating their own exams.
“The whole idea of Common Core was to bring students and schools under a common definition of what success is,” said Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “And Common Core is not going to have that.”
No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush’s signature education law, requires states to test students each year in math and reading in grades three to eight and again in high school. The Common Core-aligned tests fulfill that requirement.
But, they are significantly different from the exam that students are accustomed to taking. Rather than paper-and-pencil multiple choice tests, the new exams are taken by tablet or computer. Students also must show how they got their answer.
Field tests administered last year indicated that a majority of students would not score as proficiently in math and reading on the tests. So this summer, states, parents and schools have braced for the results.
At Los Angeles Unified School District, Cynthia Lim, executive director of the Office of Data and Accountability, said the preliminary results are “lower than what people are used to seeing.” District officials are consulting with school leaders about how to explain that the results should not be compared with old ones. “I think we are getting richer information about student learning,” she said.
Overall, the statewide scores thus far are not as stark as first predicted, though they do show that vast numbers of students are not proficient in math or reading.
In Idaho, nearly 50 percent or more of students tested were proficient or above in English language arts. In math, less than 40 percent were proficient in five grade levels. In Washington, about half of students across the state were proficient. In Vermont, English proficiency scores hovered below 60 percent and dipped to as low as 37 percent in math.
States using the Smarter Balanced tests are using the same cut scores but different descriptors. What is “below basic” in one state might be “slightly unprepared” in another.
Despite requests by the Education Department to make the results comparable, the Smarter Balanced test has four achievement levels; the PARCC exam has five.
PARCC initially was a coalition of 26 states and Smarter Balanced 31; some states belonged to both. This year, 11 states and the District of Columbia took PARCC exams. Arkansas, Mississippi and Ohio have since withdrawn. Eighteen states participated in the Smarter Balanced test this year. Of those, three states are abandoning one or all of the grade-level tests.
Sarah Potter, communications coordinator for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said frequent changes in tests and what students will be tested on has frustrated teachers and parents. The state participated in Smarter Balanced this spring, but lawmakers have appropriated $7 million for a new state-based assessment plan.
“We are losing that state-to-state comparability after this year, unfortunately,” Potter said.
Aside from the defections, the exams have also experienced technical glitches and an opt-out movement that surfaced this spring.
Most states have not been able to release test scores before the start of classes, a delay that was expected in the exam’s first year, but nonetheless frustrating for some teachers and parents.
“From a high school senior’s perspective, it’s gotta be really tough,” said Renata Witte, president of the New Mexico PTA. “You want to get those college applications in and you need this information to complete them.”
Associated Press writers Donna Gordon Blankinship in Seattle and Sally Ho in Las Vegas contributed to the report.