Students across Delaware sat down at computers in June and took the last-ever full round of testing with the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System or DCAS. Next year, the state standardized test will switch to the Smarter Balanced test, which is longer, more rigorous and focuses on written responses rather than multiple choice questions.
Students across Delaware sat down at computers in June and took the last-ever full round of testing with the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System or DCAS.
When spring rolls around next year, students will take a brand new assessment, as well as a shortened version of the DCAS that only covers science and social studies.
For the past four years, the DCAS has been the lone state standardized test used to measure student progress. Next year, the Smarter Balanced Assessment will be administered in schools across Delaware as well.
Smarter Balanced is the assessment that measures student knowledge under the new Common Core curriculum, which aims to provide a set of common educational standards across the country, specifically in the subjects of math and English language arts.
The Smarter Balanced assessment will be given to students in third through eighth grades, as well as high school juniors. In addition to the spring testing period, students can be given interim assessments throughout the year to gauge their progress, but one test in the spring will count for their official score.
Students will still take the DCAS in science and social studies because Smarter Balanced does not currently cover those subjects. The science test will be administered to students in grades 5, 8 and 10. Social studies will be administered to students in grades 4 and 7, as well as students studying U.S. history, which is typically taken in 11th grade.
Elementary-level students in the Milford School District had the most remarkable gains on DCAS this year, with Benjamin Banneker Elementary School students placing fifth in the state for math proficiency (89 percent) and fourth in the state for reading proficiency (89 percent).
But the most remarkable gains, according to a Department of Education (DOE) release, were the gains seen by Banneker’s fifth-grade special education students, who climbed from 25.9 percent of students meeting state standards in math in 2011 to 95.5 percent in 2014.
But across the board, Milford saw its ups and downs, with older students often testing with the lowest proficiency rates.
Milford School District Superintendent Phyllis Kohel said lower test scores experienced in older students, whether on DCAS or expected on the future Smarter Balanced test, are a common challenge for educators.
“Regardless of the fact that it’s the DCAS score or the Smarter Balanced score, there are a number of kids that will score well and a number of kids who will not score well based on a wide array of reasons,” she said. “One being that this test does not hold them accountable. While the state does track growth – and you’d hope that would be enough for students [to want to succeed] – there’s still a group of students who know that the test is not going to keep them from graduating or passing 11th grade into senior year.”
The number of students meeting state standards is expected to drop next year as the new assessment is rolled out, according to Brian Touchette, director of the office of assessment at the Department of Education.
“We’re looking at the numbers this year and they’re reading that at or near 70 percent of students are meeting proficiency or were advanced,” he said. “With Smarter Balanced, that number is expected to be a fair bit less. We don’t know an exact number and we won’t know until the assessment is complete.”
Kohel agrees that switching to the new test may have some short-term negative effects, including lower scores.
“I think that the anxiety that some students will experience from taking this new test might very well be a factor in how they perform,” she said. “The Smarter Balanced test is much longer and will have to be administered over several days. This will put an additional strain on students.”
One of the reasons that scores are expected to decline is because the Smarter Balanced is a different type of test. The majority of the questions on the DCAS are multiple choice, while the Smarter Balanced tasks students with providing more written responses. The content is also expected to be more rigorous, Touchette said.
However, Kohel believes that educators within the Milford School District have been successful in preparing students for the new format.
“Our teachers have been using sample test questions from an item bank provided through the Department of Education, so our students have an idea of what they will be facing,” Kohel said.
Another adjustment that districts will have to face is a lack of Smarter Balanced tests for 9th and 10th graders.
The Delaware Department of Education has given districts four options to deal with this gap in the 2014-2015 school year, according to Touchette.
Those options include administering one of the interim Smarter Balanced tests as a way to measure progress in those grades, administering a version of the PSAT test, giving an assessment created by the district or foregoing testing those students altogether.
Milford will be pursuing district-created assessments for its students, building the local tests by using Department of Education sample questions and modeled questions, Kohel said. She said opting to forego testing for the high school students wasn’t a viable option.
“We can’t wait until they hit the 11th grade. We need to prepare them,” she said. “I think we’ll still experience some frustration due to a totally new test, but it’ll give us further time to prepare the freshmen and sophomores going into their junior year.”
With no direct relation between DCAS and next year’s Smarter Balanced scores, it is also unclear whether data collected from the first year of the Smarter Balanced tests will be immediately useful in determining student performance.
“That’s a question a lot of teachers are asking state officials,” Kohel said. Next year’s scores will not count for teacher evaluations, Kohel added, but rather as a base line for comparison for future years.
“Even though we’ll still be able to track how our students are doing through the growth charts that we keep, I think it is going to be difficult, particularly to get a true measurement of how well kids are doing by looking at the Smarter Balanced scores,” she said. “Being a new test, some kids are thinking this is the first year so it really won’t count. But it counts for the school and shows that the teachers and directors and everyone involved in education are doing what they need to do. I’m just hoping the kids take it seriously and do their best no matter what level they’re on.”
MILFORD SCHOOL DISTRICT
HIGHS AND LOWS
MATH (Grades 3 through 10)
83.82% Highest percentage of students meeting state standards in math (Grade 4)
+2.25% Difference from spring 2013
60.98% Lowest percentage of students meeting state standards in math (Grade 7)
-10.68% Difference from spring 2013
READING (Grades 3 through 10)
86.27% Highest percentage of students meeting state standards in reading (Grade 5)
-0.76% Difference from spring 2013
61.54% Lowest percentage of students meeting state standards in reading (Grade 9)
-6.1% Difference from spring 2013
SCIENCE (Grades 5, 8 and 10)
54.3% Highest percentage of students meeting state standards in science (Grade 5)
+2.24% Difference from 2013
37.11% Lowest percentage of students meeting state standards in science (Grade 10)
+4.97% Difference from 2013
SOCIAL STUDIES (Grades 4 and 7)
67.66% Highest percentage of students meeting state standards in social studies (Grade 4)
+2.81 Difference from 2013
43.52%Lowest percentage of students meeting state standards in social studies (Grade 7)
-4.84% Difference from 2013