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High-school assessment struggles not surprising to higher education officials

A new assessment test given to high-school students across the state found that less than half of Maryland’s 10th-graders are meeting expectations for their English skills and less than a third of students taking Algebra 1 are meeting their performance goals, according to data released Tuesday.

But higher education officials say they’re not surprised by the scores, which represent a crucial first step toward improving college readiness among Maryland students under the Common Core educational standards, which state education officials adopted in 2010.

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Maryland students took the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, for the first time this past school year, when it replaced the Maryland School Assessment and High School Assessment tests. (File photo)

“We know we’re raising the standards. You have to start somewhere and get an understanding of where the gaps are,” said Nancy Shapiro, associate vice chancellor for education and outreach with the University System of Maryland. “We’re not unduly alarmed [about the scores].”

The university system has been supporting the new standards through professional development for new teachers, Shapiro said, adding that while she doesn’t think it will take long before test scores show significant improvement, it won’t happen immediately.

Maryland students took the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, for the first time this past school year, when it replaced the Maryland School Assessment and High School Assessment tests.

Students are scored on a five-point scale, with Level 4 showing that the student met expectations for that subject and Level 5 showing that the student exceeded expectations, according to the Maryland State Department of Education.

In English 10, 39.7 percent of all students scored either a 4 or a 5. For African-American students, the number was 25.2 percent; Asian students, 62.4 percent; Hispanic students, 27.5 percent; and white students 49.8 percent.

In Algebra 1, 31.2 percent of all students scored at least a 4. For African-American students it was 12.8 percent; Asian students, 62.4 percent; Hispanic students, 16.8 percent and white students, 45.2 percent.

Officials also released data for the state’s first-ever Algebra II test, on which 20.2 percent of students scored a 4 or 5. Approximately 6 percent of African-Americans achieved at least a 4, compared with 45.9 percent of Asian students, 11.4 percent of Hispanic students and 26.6 percent of white students.

Bad news anticipated

“The initial PARCC results represent a new starting line for Maryland students, teachers, and families as we strive to better prepare our students to get on track for success after graduation,” Interim State Superintendent of Schools Jack R. Smith said in a news release. “But it is important to recognize that this data is only a snapshot; it’s one additional measure to use when viewing the progress of our students, along with many other factors. This is a challenging assessment, and the data reflects that.”

State education officials will release school-by-school data on Nov. 5.

The Maryland scores, though preliminary, are in line with results from the seven states that have released their PARCC scores so far, said David Steiner, executive director of the Institute for Education Policy at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education.

Officials anticipated bad news from the PARCC scores, and state Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore City Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, told the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents last week that she expected the results to spark discussion among lawmakers in the next General Assembly Session about the need to improve college readiness.

The forthcoming school- and district-level PARCC data may facilitate such public discussion, Steiner said. The tests will produce show not only overall performance, but detailed, “granular” data on what concepts within each subject students are struggling with, he said.

“That, I think, is new,” Steiner said. “That’s going to give us tools we never had before.”

Part of the obstacle facing educators and policymakers across the country is that the current education system wasn’t designed using college readiness as a starting point, Steiner said. It wasn’t intended to deliver the great majority of students into college, he said.

“We forget how quickly things change,” Steiner said.