Last Thursday, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) released their annual report of graduation rates and test results.  Again, the 2013-14 results leave us with more questions than answers.

In 2012-13 the Common Core standards were taught, and new DPI developed tests were given.  The students performed so poorly the State Board decided, in 2013, to release the data but not hold schools and students accountable. In 2014, DPI recommended and State School Board affirmed,  a change from four achievement levels to five levels, which made comparing results rather confusing.

However, here is an explanation I think most can understand. The old level 1, which is considered not at grade level,  stayed the same regarding cut scores. So there was no change at this level.  The current levels 4 & 5, are the previous levels 3 & 4, which are considered at and above grade level.  The change basically occurred only at level 2, which has never been considered at grade level.  The 2013-14 new level 3 students were students previously performing at level 2, but scored within “one standard error of measure.” One of the reasons the State Board added this level was due to the high stake consequences third grade students faced with “Read to Achieve.” Using the “new” level of  “proficiency,” there are 12.6% more third graders “proficient” this year. Simply using 5 levels instead of the 4 levels increased the level “proficient” in every grade in every subject, which in of itself is another discussion. Does this lower the bar, or does it help students who possibly could pass the test with one more try?

Comparing levels 3 & 4 in 2013 with levels 4 & 5 in 2014, gives a more accurate view of any gains made over the past two years. Currently third through eight graders, 55.3% in reading, and 56.9% in math are NOT considered to be college and career ready. The overall third through eighth grade reading and math scores increased 0.8% from 2012-13 to 2013-14.  At this rate, it could take us 30 years to reach 70% of our students being at the college & career level.  Boy, that is comforting!

DPI also highlights the “growth” achievement of students, and while growth is important their formula of growth goals is more difficult to understand. However; according to DPI, 74.7% of schools met or exceeded their academic growth goals. Another source of confusion consists of the percent proficient being so much lower than the percent meeting growth gains.

Looking at the results you need to keep a few facts in mind.  First, do not forget the Common Core Standards and new tests developed by DPI have been in place since 2012. Professional Development began the summer of 2011 for these changes.  In fact, over $66 million has been spent on professional development.  IS this what you call a “return on investment?” Are our students and teachers inept, or could there be something wrong elsewhere?

DPI lauds the highest ever graduation rate of 83.8%.  However, we only have 47.8% of our high school students performing at “college and career” ready level. Can someone explain THAT to me? Districts allow students to “recover” credits when classes are failed, which is an excellent idea.  The “recovery” option has allowed the state and districts to greatly increase graduation rates. However, are students with “recovery” credit given the same evaluation at the end of the course to make sure the same level  of content knowledge is acquired? The state does not disaggregate the percent of graduating seniors who have used the “recovery” pathway to gain credit hours.  Could this be an explanation for the disparity?

Parents still have NO idea how their student really performs. Again this year I say:  The assessments are flawed.  Why doesn’t North Carolina go back to a nationally recognized achievement test, and stop making evaluations so entirely unbelievably complicated to understand? It is time for a testing revolt!