July 18, 2008

Area School Systems to Release Yearly Statistics for End-of-Year Tests Monday

By Ana Ribeiro, Star-News, Wilmington, N.C.

Jul. 17--The state expects local school systems to release their math scores, high school reading scores and adequate yearly progress stats for the end-of-year tests on Monday, says a state schools' spokeswoman.

Reading tests results for students in grades 3 through 8 won't be released until November, said N.C. Department of Public Instruction spokeswoman Linda Fuller. In October, the state school board is expected to set a new passing, or "cut," score for student proficiency in the test, she said.

Lou Fabrizio, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction's director of Accountability Services, said the state school board will most likely set the reading cut scores higher, which means "fewer students will be scoring at or above grade level."

Elementary- and middle-schoolers must take end-of-grade reading and math tests every year, and high-schoolers must take end-of-course exams on the various subjects they've learned. Adequate yearly progress is the minimum level of growth required of the nation's schools under the federal No Child Left Behind law. It stipulates all school systems must increase the pass rate gradually, working up to 2013-14.

That school year, proficiency will be required of 100 percent of the nation's students, regardless of learning impairments.

According to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, 84.4 percent of the state's elementary- and middle-school students are required to pass the reading test -- the one whose cut scores the state school board is about to revise -- for the 2007-08 school year. The schools that don't achieve that may face sanctions including state intervention and being forced to give parents a choice to move students to a better-scoring school.

In New Hanover County, 88.4 percent of students in grades 3-8 passed the reading test for the 2006-07 school year. In Brunswick and Pender counties, the pass rate was also satisfactory, at 86.1 percent and 87.9 percent, respectively.

However, math scores in those counties, and in the state overall, slumped when the state school board raised that proficiency threshold in the 2005-06 school year. Average math proficiency percentages went from the high 90s and low 80s previously to 62 to 68 percent that school year, said Fabrizio.

"The board's efforts to raise the bar are to be commended," Fabrizio said, adding that some states have been criticized for trying to set lower cut scores to make it easier for students to meet pass rates under No Child Left Behind.

The new reading proficiency threshold for grades 3 through 8 will be set after the fact "essentially because you don't know how difficult the test is until the results come out," said Gary Williamson, reporting section chief for the state schools' Accountability Services.

The state school system has hired California-based company Pacific Metrics to analyze how well students in grades 3 through 8 have done in the reading test, which will help determine the new cut score, said Fabrizio and Vanessa Jeter, the state schools' communications director. The schools' Accountability Services will then present the school board with different methodologies -- such as one involving teachers' expectations on the performance of student groups -- and how they apply to calculating appropriate cut scores, Jeter said.

A variety of elements must be considered "when you're looking into setting scores for every student at every level in the state," Jeter said.

Visit www.ncpublicschools.org and www.ncreportcards.org.


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