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State students getting better in English, struggles continue in Math, Science

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State students getting better in English, struggles continue in Math, Science
By Matt Maccaro , WV Metronews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Preliminary results from new standardized testing of West Virginia public school students show that English/Language Arts (ELA) scores are slightly higher than expected, but mathematics scores are significantly lower. 

The results of the West Virginia Statewide Assessment were released at the state Board of Education meeting Wednesday. The assessment measured student achievement using the state’s new Smarter Balanced standards, which are based on Common Core, the controversial national standards that are designed to improve education.

West Virginia students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11 scored higher in ELA and literacy proficiency than a national test group of students using the Smarter Balanced standards the previous year.  However, the majority of state students failed to meet the test group standard in math.

State education officials pointed out that third graders, who are the first students to have four years (K-3) of the new standards, scored higher than expected in math and English.

“Because those students have been taught the standards for the longest periods of time, that’s why we’re pleased to see that in ELA and math those students are outperforming what the projections show,” said state Department of Education Executive Director of Assessment Vaughn Rhudy.

Those results may be used by supporters of Smarter Balanced/Common Core who want to give the new standards time to work.  State Sen. President Bill Cole and House Speaker Tim Armstead have already said they plan to introduce legislation to repeal Common Core. 

The state board is currently taking public comments on the standards with plans to make adjustments that board members hope will satisfy critics.

Outside of the third grade, math scores were dismal.  Only 18 percent of ninth graders, 15 percent of 10th graders and 20 percent of 11th graders were rated as “proficient.”  West Virginia high school juniors were 13 percentage points lower than the 2014 Smarter Balanced field test standard. Executive Director of Communications Kristen Anderson said state Superintendent Michael Martirano knows that’s a concern.

“We have work to do in the areas of math and science,” she said. “Overall, our superintendent and our board are committed to pushing these proficiency levels higher. It’s definitely something you’re going to hear the superintendent talk about over the next year.

Science is a problem as well. Students in grades four, six and 10 who took the test saw scores decline by an average of two percent from the previous year. (There is no Smarter Balanced science test.  Students were measured using the Westest, which Smarter Balanced replaced in other disciplines.)

Education officials have said one problem with any standardized testing is that not all students take it seriously.  However, Rhudy said that 11th graders should be motivated because the state Higher Education Policy Commission is now using test results to determine whether students can avoid remedial classes in college.

“When they go away to school, they can point to that score when they enter the college or university of choice in West Virginia,” Rhudy explained. “They can use that score and the college won’t schedule them into a remedial course.”

“The important thing is that in order for us to see how things go, we need to have the same assessment for an extended period of time,” he said. “If we change assessments again, we have to start with a new baseline and do something else.”

The statewide assessment results were made available earlier this year than any time in the past, something that Martirano thinks should be an advantage for both teachers and students.

“I’ve been very clear that I want those results out early,” Martirano said Tuesday. “I’ve been very transparent in my superintendency about all of our information. And I want those results into the hands of our teachers, principals and parents so good instructional decisions can be made about those.”