Video by Gabe Katzman
BALTIMORE – A majority of Maryland high school students failed to hit grade-level targets for college readiness, including alarmingly few black and Hispanic students, according to new, statewide exams scores released Tuesday by the state Board of Education.
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, or PARCC, given to high school, middle and elementary students, has drawn controversy nationwide and across the state, because, some say, it detracts from classroom learning time.
State officials released spring test results for high school students, who took three exams: English 10, algebra I and algebra II.
The results alarmed board members, with less than one-third of students meeting or exceeding the grade level standard in algebra I; nearly 40 percent meeting grade-level expectations for English; and only 20 percent passing the Algebra II exam.
Board members had discussed the likelihood of statewide scores lower than other standardized test scores in previous years, but most expressed shock during the score’s presentation.
“It still looks pretty horrific on paper … we didn’t expect them to be this low either,” said Michele Jenkins Guyton, a first-year school board member. “We need to look at whether indeed, as an educational system in Maryland, we are under-educating 70 percent of our students, and I don’t believe that is really the case.”
The scores’ release came shortly after Gov. Larry Hogan announced early Tuesday his inaugural appointments to a new 19-member task force that is charged with reviewing statewide public school assessments.
The Commission to Review Maryland’s Use of Assessments and Testing in Public Schools, which Hogan created in May, will be headed by Christopher Berry, a Frederick County resident and principal of James Hubert Blake High School in Montgomery County.
“When schools and teachers are forced to overemphasize standardized tests in the classroom, they deprive students of the kind of quality education they deserve,” Hogan said in a news release. “It is clear to most Marylanders that we are over-testing our students and the process needs to be greatly improved.”
Scores indicate racial disparities among high school students
Teachers administered the statewide PARCC exams for the first time in the spring at all but seven Maryland schools, according to a Maryland Department of Education staff report.
Though high school students, as a whole, fared poorly on all three sections, the initial reports indicated large percentages of Hispanic and African-American students did not meet grade-level standards.
“My other concerns are the minorities and how poorly they scored,” said board member Stephanie Iszard. “That aggrieves me.”
Just 12.8 percent of African-American students and 16.8 percent of Hispanic students scored on or above grade level for algebra I, while 62.4 percent of Asian students and 45.2 percent of Caucasian students scored on or above grade level.
The racial disparities were similar on the English 10 and algebra II PARCC exams, according to reports.
On the English 10 exam, 25.2 percent of African American students, 62.4 percent of Asian students, 27.5 percent of Hispanic students and 49.8 percent of Caucasian students scored on grade-level.
On the algebra II exam, 5.7 percent of African-American students, 45.9 percent of Asian students, 11.4 percent of Hispanic students and 26.6 percent of Caucasian students scored on or above grade level.
The five-tiered scoring system lists Level 5 and Level 4 as meeting or exceeding grade-level expectations, and indicates college and career readiness. The lower three tiers, 1-3, mean the student is below grade-level expectations.
On the algebra I exam, only 5.9 percent of special education students scored at a Level 4 or Level 5, and just 13.2 percent of students receiving free or reduced price meals scored on grade-level. On the English 10 exam, 7.1 percent of special education students and 22.7 percent of low-income students scored at grade-level. On the algebra II exam, 5.7 percent of special education students and 6.7 percent of low-income students scored on grade-level.
Individual high school results will be released Nov. 5, according to a news release.
Board members suggested the exam’s baseline could be lower this year because students did not have an incentive to pass in order to graduate.
Whether the exams will be required for high school graduation will be decided at a future board meeting, according to board members, but the scores will not be used as a requirement this year or in teacher evaluations.
Interim State Superintendent of Schools Jack R. Smith also pointed to the not-so-seamless transition between standardized tests, citing the shift to the standardized High School Assessments in 2003.
In 2003, fewer than 40 percent of students passed the HSA, but just four years later in 2007, more than 70 percent of high school students passed the exam.
The PARCC high school exams are expected to replace High School Assessments in English, government, biology and Algebra I.
“Obviously this is a cold shower, and combining it with the (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores that come out (Wednesday) — it will be an even colder shower,” said board member Chester E. Finn Jr.
THE NAEP is a national report card that breaks down student achievement in the core subjects of mathematics, reading, science and writing.
However, most of Finn’s concern with the test remains with how parents will interpret their children’s scores when they receive the paper take-home reports next month.
Finn said the take-home report’s description of the Levels 1-5 tiered system will not clearly explain the difference between who is on grade level and who is not.
“The score report to parents as shown this morning, does not tell them an honest statement.” Finn said. “It is in fact misleading, unless you have a Ph.D.”
Individual reports are expected to be sent home to high school students on Nov. 3.
Elementary and middle school students are expected to receive individual scores on Nov. 30. The board plans to release statewide results for elementary and middle school PARCC exams at their next meeting, Dec. 8.
First PARCC test a benchmark, expected to improve
Teachers administered the exam for the first time in 11 states and the District of Columbia in the spring as part of the Common Core Standards Initiative, a nationally controversial teaching and testing method.
States began releasing preliminary results in early September from the first round of tests, with New Jersey and Massachusetts releasing scores last week. Maryland is the third-to-last state to release data, according to the board.
In many other states, a majority of students’ PARCC scores missed the target grade-level benchmark. New Mexico and New Jersey also saw more than half of high school students fail to meet PARCC’s grade-level proficiency target in both English and math.
Though fewer Maryland students’ appear to have met grade-level standards on the PARCC than on previous statewide standardized exams, like the Maryland State Assessment, or MSA, and the HSA, they aren’t directly comparable. Scores released this year cannot be lower, or higher, than previous year’s exams because this test has never been given here, state education officials said.
“This is a challenging assessment, and the data reflects that,” Smith said in a statement. “But it is important to recognize that this data is only a snapshot; it’s one additional measure to use when viewing the progress of our students, along with many other factors.”
Maryland teacher’s union officials agree that the exams need to arrive earlier in order for individualized scores to be useful for teachers.
Scores in later years are expected to be released in the summer, helping teachers better prepare for incoming students, according to the board.
“It’s making sure that the assessments that are given are not redundant, they’re useful for instruction and they come back to the teachers in a timely manner so that they can change instruction,” said Cheryl Bost, vice president of the Maryland State Education Association and an elementary school teacher in Baltimore County. “Getting a test result for students who are already out of your classroom becomes meaningless.”