While the majority of test scores for Arkansas students won’t be released until later this fall because of PARCC standard setting, scores are currently available for:
- Science Benchmark (grades 5 and 7)
- Biology End-of-Course and
- ITBS scores (grades 1 and 2)
Here at OEP we took a look at student performance on these assessments and shared the results in today’s Policy Brief.
In a nutshell – it doesn’t look very good.
While there was a slight increase in 5th grade science proficiency over the scores from 2013-14, the 7th grade proficiency rates continue to decline. Only 34% of Arkansas students scored met proficiency expectations in science this year.
Biology EOC scores remained consistent with 2013-14 performance, but only 46% of Arkansas high school students demonstrated proficiency in 2014-15. This is consistent with the ACT results released today showing only 32% of Arkansas’ graduating class met college ready benchmarks in Science, and it is interesting to note that this percentage also remained consisted with the ACT science scores for 2014 graduates.
Scores also declined for first and second grade students in reading, language and math on the norm-referenced Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS). In some cases the declines are substantial (first grade language scores falling over a dozen percentile ranks), while in other subject areas the decline of one or two national percentile ranks may seem slight. The 2014-15 results, however, continue a downward slide in all subjects since the ITBS was reinstated in Arkansas in 2010-11.
What are we to make of these disheartening results?
Some folks may be wondering, are Common Core Standards (CCSS) to be blamed?
Science performance should not be impacted by CCSS. CCSS are English Language Arts and math standards. Arkansas science standards and science assessments have not changed due to CCSS. It is possible, however, that schools are spending less time on science instruction as they implement CCSS. Another possibility is that schools are focusing more on literacy and mathematics because those subjects “count” in accountability calculations.
ITBS declines, however, may be due to the implementation of CCSS. Arkansas students are being taught CCSS in ELA and math, but the ITBS was not developed to measure those standards. This disconnect, between what teachers are teaching and what the ITBS is measuring, could be a factor in the declining scores for our first and second grade students.
Such a disconnect between standards and the assessment being used to measure student performance may occur next year in science. Although new science standards have been adopted, teachers will continue to teach the Arkansas standards during the next year, but Arkansas will be using the ACT Aspire to assess student performance in science instead of the Benchmark Science Exams that we have been using. ACT Aspire does not measure the Arkansas science standards, so there will be a lack of alignment between the standards and the assessment which may lead to deflated scores.
ITBS will continue to be the assessment for students in first and second grades until a new test is selected. Although a new, more aligned assessment is needed, it is important that Arkansas continue assessing students in these early grades so interventions can help them get back on track before they fall too far behind their peers. While some teachers and education leaders may dismiss the declining results due to a lack of alignment between the standards they are teaching and the ones being measured by ITBS, these results are all we have to tell us how our young students are progressing, and it’s not great news.
Here at the OEP we hope kids don’t get lost in the shuffle of assessments. We suggest districts use a high quality interim assessment to consistently track student progress as the new assessments and new standards are implemented. Unless you have multiple valid and reliable data points, there’s no way to determine if students are on track for success.