Scores Dip Under New Math Test
About 70 percent of Moore County students in third through eighth-grades scored at a proficient level on the new 2005-2006 end-of-grade math test.
Last year, 90 percent scored proficient. But Moore County school officials caution that it might be unfair to compare the two years.
That's because the 2005-2006 math test was an entirely new test, based on a math curriculum the state adopted in 2003. The previous year's test was based on an older -- and, school officials said, less rigorous -- curriculum.
"You can't really call it a drop," Moore County Schools Superintendent Dr. Susan Purser said.
She also wrote in an opinion piece for The Pilot this summer, "In fairness to our students, results this year cannot be compared with previous years."
Math and reading test results normally are released during the summer but, because the math tests were new, it took longer to make analysis adjustments and interpret scores. Because of the delay in the release of the math scores, the test did not factor into promotion decisions.
There were several other new tests besides math last year -- the eighth-grade computer test, the civics and economics test, and the U.S. history tests.
But the main difference between the new and old math tests, Purser said, is that the new one is simply more difficult.
"The main thing is the content is moving to earlier grades," Purser said. "The level of sophistication increases."
Content has moved down progressively to lower grades in the past 14 years. For example, in 1992, high-schoolers taking Alge-bra I were expected to know how to use the associative, commutative and distributive properties. By 1998, this was on the eighth-grade curriculum. And in 2003, those properties were part of the new curriculum for fifth- and sixth-graders.
Since the new curriculum is more intense, Purser said, there will be a lag in test scores during the transition period, because neither the teachers nor students know what to expect from a new test when there is a shake-up in curriculum.
"Teachers and students going into that new curriculum don't know what that assessment is going to look like," Purser said. "Over time, you understand what the assessment looks like better so you're better able to make sure that students are set up so they can demonstrate their proficiency."
Moore County didn't fare too poorly compared to the rest of the state. Moore County proficiency figures for third- through eighth-grades exceed their statewide counterparts by an average margin of 5.9 percent.
"Actually," Purser said, "I thought our schools did pretty well given our change in the standards."
The ABCs model is a state-based accountability system that measures school growth and performance, using tests and other mechanisms already in place in public schools. Beginning in the 20022003 school year, the ABCs program expanded to include provisions of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal law.
NCLB was designed to have all public school children test at grade level in reading and mathematics by the end of the 2013-14 school year. Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), is a measure required under that law.
This year, 10 out of the 19 schools counted in Moore County met AYP standards. (There are 22 schools in the Moore County district, but three of them -- Aberdeen Primary, Southern Pines Primary and Pinckney Academy -- are not counted for AYP tallies.) The system, then, did not make AYP, meeting 294 out 315 math and reading goals, or 93.3 percent. The district is classified as having gone into AYP "improvement."
Student participation and proficiency in reading/language arts and mathematics assessments determine if a school makes AYP. To make AYP, a school must meet every performance target for each subgroup in the school. The subgroups are: the school as a whole, white, black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, multiracial, economically disadvantaged students, limited English-proficient students (LEP) and students with disabilities.
Elementary and middle schools also must show progress in attendance, and high schools in graduation rate, to meet AYP standards.
It is an all-or-nothing system. For example, in 2003-2004, Southern Pines Elementary did not make overall AYP because one of its subgroups, exceptional children (or students with disabilities) did not meet its targeted proficiency goal.
Three Moore County school are listed as "Title I Improvement Schools," which means they did not make AYP in the same subject for two consecutive years: Robbins Elementary in reading for Hispanics and LEP, Southern Pines Elementary in reading for students with disabilities (Southern Pines Primary, which feeds into Southern Pines Elementary, shares this distinction, even though none of its students are tested), and Vass-Lakeview Elementary in reading for students with disabilities.
Title I schools receive federal funding, and thus are subject to certain federal requirements for school improvement and sanctions if those requirements are not met.
This spring, some students will be toiling through another set of new tests -- new science assessments are scheduled to be piloted for grades 5 and 8.
"Assessment informs education," Purser said. "If you take it totally out of context, you are not doing justice to teachers and students. If the schools then get a black eye, then that's when teachers really feel defeated."
Katherine Evans is an intern from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She can be reached at 693-2480 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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