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State tests given to students in grades 3 through 8 are on their way out, and results released this week are all but meaningless, St. Mary’s school officials said, because students are tested on material that may no longer be covered in class.
St. Mary’s public schools are already teaching a new curriculum based on national standards that will sync with a new set of tests to be tried in some classrooms next year. That means last school year and, for the most part next school year, the lessons for a specific grade do not equal what is actually tested on the lame-duck Maryland School Assessments.
“It doesn’t make the data very valid or useful,” Scott Smith, acting assistant superintendent of instruction, said.
St. Mary’s and state educators blamed declines in MSA test scores at nearly all elementary and middle school grade levels this year on that misalignment. Similar dips in scores were seen across the state, according to the Maryland State Department of Education, which released MSA results Tuesday.
The math and reading MSA tests were given to all students in grades 3 through 8 last March. Next spring most, but not all, will take these tests one last time; a small percentage of students will be guinea pigs for the new nationally based tests called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
So, why evaluate last year’s MSA data, or even give the test at all any longer?
“It’s an exercise in compliance” to meet federal requirements that require standardized math and reading tests in grades 3 through 8, Smith said. “It certainly doesn’t have anywhere near the value that it had.”
Next year, according to the Maryland State Department of Education, one class in each school will take the new PARCC tests, while the rest of the classes in grades 3 through 8 will take the MSAs one last time, Smith said.
Next year’s limited PARCC results will give teachers and administrators feedback on procedural and other technical aspects of the new tests, he said, but will not be particularly useful for comparison purposes.
Superintendent Michael Martirano said school administrators had predicted that scores would decline because of the misalignment between what was taught and what was tested. In past years, Martirano touted the school system’s results, which were often among the top school systems in the state.
“We gave it no emphasis last [school] year,” Smith said. Teachers were told not to spend extra time preparing students for the test.
This had a particular effect on the scores of students who historically struggle in school, including some minorities, students from low-income families and special education students. These students, sometimes referred to as “bubble kids,” often straddled the line between scoring basic and proficient on the tests, he said.
In the past, teachers would spend up to four weeks before the MSA tests to work on specific areas and general test preparation. That was not done last year, he said.
“We’d gotten very good at preparing for a test,” he said.
Those children may have received extra assistance during the school year, but it would have been focused on the new curriculum, he said.
Smith said that students last year did not suffer academically, and that grades and promotion rates would prove that. On average, students just did not score as high on the MSAs, he said.
For instance, pass rates on the math tests for seventh-grade African-American students dropped 12 percentage points from the previous year, while their white peers overall decreased by less than 2 percentage points.
Pass rates for students identified as coming from low-income families dropped almost 10 percentage points on the seventh-grade math test, while others in that grade level only dipped 1 percentage point.
Third-grade reading and math pass rates dropped 10 points or more last year for black students while their peers only saw single-digit dips, according to the MSDE data. Special education students in 2013 posted pass rates that were 10, 20 or even more percentage points lower than the previous year across most grade levels on the reading and math tests.
In some cases, the new curriculum is out of sequence with what is tested on the MSAs, Smith said. In others, concepts on the MSAs are not taught at all or presented in a different manner.
Some lessons that had been taught in middle school English classes are now being taught in elementary school. However, current middle school students may not have been exposed to those lessons before taking the MSA.
In the new Common Core Curriculum, students are taught to do more in-depth writing, instead of the previous “brief constructed responses” that were systematically written and still included on the reading MSAs, Smith said.
In math, sixth-graders were no longer taught theoretical and experimental probability or certain geometry topics that were on the math MSA. Seventh-grade students did not learn about certain fraction operations or exponents (items that were on the MSA), while eighth-graders were not exposed to formulas to determine area or geometric constructions.
Despite slippages in the scores for MSA tests given this spring, elementary schools in St. Mary’s had pass rates of 87.6 percent (reading) and 88.9 percent (math), both higher than state averages of 86.4 percent (reading) and 83.9 percent (math).
St. Mary’s middle schools average of 80 percent pass rate compared to the state’s average of 72.2 percent; while reading tests at the county’s middle schools (82.5 percent pass rate) were overall slightly lower than the state average of 83.4 percent.
How St. Mary’s has scored overall on the MSA
Percentage of St. Mary’s students scoring proficient or better for the past 10 years
Reading 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Grade 3 71.3 75.9 80.7 83.6 85.9 88.8 87.1 85.4 87.5 84.1
Grade 4 77.4 82.4 82.7 89.5 91.1 88.6 89.1 90.9 91.2 89.3
Grade 5 73.3 78.1 80.1 80.7 90.0 91.0 91.7 90.4 92.6 89.4
Grade 6 68.9 72.4 73.3 80.3 82.7 85.6 87.9 82.7 85.4 84.1
Grade 7 69.6 68.3 76.9 76.1 85.2 81.5 86.7 84.6 81.4 83.2
Grade 8 64.7 73.3 69.7 75.8 80.0 82.0 83.1 86.9 83.3 80.3
Math 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Grade 3 76.0 79.2 85.1 82.6 87.5 86.6 90.8 90.7 92.6 86.7
Grade 4 76.0 77.4 86.7 91.4 91.9 91.9 91.6 94.0 92.2 93.5
Grade 5 67.0 74.7 76.2 82.6 86.0 85.1 87.2 85.5 91.4 86.5
Grade 6 53.1 63.8 73.0 78.7 83.1 85.6 88.5 87.7 87.0 86.5
Grade 7 48.7 55.5 65.1 64.5 76.9 81.0 81.0 84.6 81.0 77.2
Grade 8 39.4 46.1 53.2 56.8 70.8 79.6 78.8 79.3 81.3 76.2
Source: Maryland State Department of Education