When the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) last month released a batch of test scores, suggesting many 10th grade students in the state are not meeting new Common Core academic standards, the department was quick to retract the seemingly alarming report, ultimately scrubbing the data from its website and claiming the numbers were inaccurate.
“Due to an error by the State Department of Education, the data calculation previously published on Jan. 20, 2015, ACT Plan results were incorrect,” ALSDE Public Information Specialist Erica Pippins told Lagniappe via email after the test scores were taken down from the website’s data center.
State officials have since stressed that the ALSDE inadvertently used preliminary benchmarks instead of final benchmarks when first calculating ACT Plan results. As a result of the error, the new statewide level of student proficiency increased by 10 percent in English from 51 percent to 61 percent and increased by two percent in math from 17 percent to 19 percent. Because both preliminary and final benchmarks for science remained the same, no changes were reported for those scores, according to officials.
State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tommy Bice said despite the upward shift in English and math proficiencies, there is still a lot of work to do ensuring students are adequately prepared for college or career standards.
“It is important to remember these scores reflect a new assessment with more rigorous academic expectations than the previous Alabama High School Graduation Exam,” he said in a prepared statement. “These new assessment results create a new baseline, aligned with the expectations of our technical schools, two-year and four-year colleges and business and industry and are to be used to design instructional programs and curriculum at the local level to continually move students toward college and career readiness.”
Bice maintained the ALSDE accepts full responsibility for the error in reporting inaccurate testing data and said the department has put in place procedural safeguards to ensure all data is better reviewed and validated prior to release. Further, he said he is confident students are now being assessed by a balanced and meaningful system that informs parents and students, while assisting teachers with strategic instructional plans to ensure every child graduates prepared for the future.
The ALSDE broke down the statewide scores by subject and used four different levels of achievement – “Exceeding,” “Ready,” “Close” and “In Need of Support.”
In English, 29 percent of students scored “Exceeding,” 32 percent scored “Ready,” 26 percent scored “Close” and 13 percent scored “In Need of Support.”
However, science and math scores revealed many students are “In Need of Support” with 47 percent falling in that category in science and 34 percent in math. Further, the final science results showed 33 percent of students scored in the “Close” range with 12 percent being “Ready” and only 9 percent “Exceeding.”
Math scores showed 46 percent of students as “Close,” 12 percent “Ready” and 7 percent “Exceeding.”
For each individual school report, scores were ranked as Level I, does not meet meet academic content standards, Level II, partially meets academic content standards, Level III, meets academic content standards and Level IV, exceeds academic content standards.
In Mobile County, more than half of 10th graders tested in six out of the 12 MCPSS high schools did not meet academic content standards in science. Those were B.C. Rain, LeFlore, Vigor, Williamson, Mary G. Montgomery and Blount high schools.
Further, more than half the students at B.C Rain, Vigor, LeFlore, Williamson and Blount high schools also did not meet academic content standards in math.
The highest performing schools were Baker High School with 32.48 percent exceeding English standards, followed by Davidson High School with 31.89 percent and Murphy High School with 26.55 percent. Davidson High School had the highest percent of students exceeding in science with 11.76 with Murphy at 7.36 percent and Baker at 7.02 percent. Furthermore, Davidson also had the highest percentage of students with exceeding scores in math at 13.98 percent followed by Baker at 6.71 and Alma Bryant at 4.97.
While Mobile County schools have administered the ACT Plan and ACT Explore for a number of years as a teaching and planning assessment, MCPSS Superintendent Martha Peek told Lagniappe this is the first year the state administered the test to students statewide and released the scores to the public.
“They are formative assessments. They give us a view of what the students are doing at that time of year and give us the information we need to then provide instruction to meet the students needs based upon their strengths and weakness that are shown on those tests,” Peek said. “It really provides us a point to move from to provide the instruction our students need, so it’s not a summative assessment like the ACT. We use it to guide instruction, to make sure the students get the skills they need in order to move on through and be well prepared. So, when these scores come out, we look at them as giving us a tool to work with rather than, ‘OK, it’s summative and that’s all we can do.’”