From the Cabinet Report ….
(Calif.) A closer look at results of first-year Common Core testing has revealed that disadvantaged students, who historically have trailed their peers when it comes to academic achievement, have fallen even further behind.
A report released this week by the Public Policy Institute of California concludes that a much larger share of English learners and poor students failed to meet minimum standards on the 2014-15 Smarter Balanced assessments than on the previous state exam, last administered in 2012-13.
As a result, PPIC researchers said, test score gaps between high-need students and white students are larger on the Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced assessments than they were on the prior California Standardized Tests for both math and English language arts.
“The results for English Learner and economically disadvantaged students suggest that high-need students are further behind than educators may have thought,” wrote authors Laura Hill and Iwunze Ugo. “[These results] provide an important call to action for districts and schools that are struggling to educate high-need students.”
The PPIC white paper comes as a majority of California school districts remain in the early stages of transitioning to Common Core, a set of more rigorous education standards developed by a council of state school superintendents and adopted – at least initially – by a majority of states beginning in 2010.
The California State Board of Education is also in the midst of redesigning its school accountability system to align with both federal and state requirements that place a big emphasis on improving outcomes for disadvantaged students. Along with these changes, the state is implementing new English learner standards and considering different ways to reclassify those students as English speakers.
Drawing comparisons between results of the two testing systems has been discouraged by the CDE and the state board because, officials have argued, they are based on different standards with differing expectations, testing methods and uneven instruction in the new standards.
“We do not believe it is useful to compare scores from the two different tests because they are so different,” said Bill Ainsworth, CDE’s communications director in a statement Tuesday.
“The new online test evaluates students’ progress on the new, more challenging academic standards that are helping prepare our students for college and 21st century careers,” he said. “They test communications, analytical, and critical thinking skills.” Still, the researchers claim the data they’ve gleaned from their review provides useful information for policy makers and districts trying to narrow the achievement gaps between groups of students.
For example, Hill and Ugo pointed out, schools and districts can use the analysis “to take stock of their implementation” of the Common Core and progress toward locally-defined educational goals for disadvantaged students targeted under the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula.
“Schools and districts with large gaps – especially those performing below expectations – can find examples of similar districts and schools that exceeded expectations,” the authors stated. “It is useful to understand which districts and schools are doing consistently well on both tests, and whether districts doing well on the [Smarter Balanced] English language arts also do well on the [Smarter Balanced] math.”
The researchers focused on English language arts results in the fourth grade, they said, because early test scores have proven useful in predicting later educational outcomes and because so many English Learners are reclassified at this grade level.
While scores for all students were lower on the first-year Smarter Balanced assessments, the drop, they found, “was particularly pronounced among high-need students.”
For example, only 12 percent of fourth-grade English learners met the Smarter Balanced ELA standard compared to 30 percent on the 2012-13 California Standardized Testing, the researchers discovered. Similarly, 26 percent of economically disadvantaged fourth graders met the Smarter Balanced standard, while more than half (53 percent) met the standard on the last CST.
In particular, the gap in math between English learner students and white students was 80 percent on Smarter Balanced compared to 38 percent on the CST – in other words, the share of EL students who met the standard for Smarter Balanced was 80 percent lower than the share of white students who met those standards.
For the ELA test, the Smarter Balanced score gap was 79 percent, rather than 61 percent on the CST, the authors reported. These gaps were larger for EL students than any other group. Gaps between economically disadvantaged students and white students are large as well. For math, the gap between economically disadvantaged students and white students was 59 percent on the Smarter Balanced and 22 percent on the CST. For the ELA test, the gap was 54 percent on Smarter Balanced and 31 percent on the CST.
“Generally speaking, as the share of high-need students in a district or school increases, the proportion of students meeting the standards falls,” wrote Hill and Ugo. “However, when we compare results across demographically similar schools and districts, we find that some schools performed better than expected.”
Likewise, the researchers also found a relatively large number of schools in which no English learner students scored at or above the standards for English language arts and math. In the past, they said, 30 percent of districts required ELs to meet the ELA standard on the CST to be reclassified.
“Highlighting the districts and schools that have done well with both tests may prove useful for districts and schools looking to improve their results,” the analysts said. “Similarly, districts and schools that did well with the CST but are now struggling with [Smarter Balanced] may need to change course.”