By Marissa Horn
Capital News Service
Following the release Tuesday of new, statewide exam scores showing that fewer than half of elementary and middle school-aged students passed, Maryland Board of Education members appeared to be split over the practicality of continuing to use the exam in coming years.
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, or PARCC, was administered in 11 states and the District of Columbia to high school, middle and elementary school students. The exam, which aligns with Common Core State Standards, proved to be controversial during its first implementation this past spring.
Nearly 40% of students in grades 3-8 scored at or above grade-level expectations — a Level 4 or 5 — on the English Language Arts and Literacy assessments, while fewer than 30% statewide passed the math exam.
The scores for grades 3-8 mirror the state’s high school scores released in late October, where fewer than 40% met or exceeded the grade-level standard on the English 10 exam, less than one-third passed Algebra I, and only 20% passed the Algebra II exams.
Some of the state’s more advanced middle school students also took the Algebra I and Algebra II tests, with over 30% who took it passing the Algebra I exam and just over 20% passing the Algebra II exam. Math scores fell as the grade level increased because many of the advanced students instead took the upper-level math exams, Interim State Superintendent Jack Smith said.
“These initial results provide a new springboard for Maryland students, as we continue our work to better prepare them for what lies ahead,” Smith said in a statement. “These results should be viewed in combination with other measures when assessing student progress.”
Some board members wanted these results to be reported to them along with scores for the SAT exam, student transcripts and other standards, to put the PARCC results into perspective with other measures of student performance.
Complicated format, long delay
Despite the low scores across the board, most board members agreed that the complicated format for results and long delay for the exam’s take-home reports were the least acceptable part of the process for parents and guardians. The tests were administered in each of the state’s 24 jurisdictions in April or May.
“It’s very dense. I think that one would have to have a 4 or 5 on the PARCC exam to understand it,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., a board member. “We should have a place on the parent’s report with a two-box option, ‘is’ or ‘is not’ on track for college and career. ‘Is’ or ‘Is not’. Nothing else.”
Maryland State Department of Education officials told lawmakers in mid-October that the new exam would also itemize results and show individual students’ areas of deficiency for teachers. Some board members suggested that future take-home reports should also be available online with individualized results included for parents.
“I have been a fan of PARCC for years now, but this experience has begun to turn me against it,” said Finn, president emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which advocates for education reform.
Local school systems also waited until Nov. 16 to begin distributing the scores to parents through take-home reports, which took too long, according to several board members. But, the state is planning to administer the exam again in April or May, with scores coming back much more quickly — in a four- to six-week time period, Interim Deputy State Superintendent Henry Johnson said.
In three to four years, Johnson said, the return time of scores should be almost instantaneous.
“There is a vote coming up and some of us are in different places on how useful this tool is,” board member Larry Giammo said of the future of PARCC exams. “It’s a little difficult for us to be like ‘Yeah this is the way to go’.”
However, the board did not say when this “vote” or further discussion would be taking place. It has not been included on future agendas as of yet, education department spokesman Bill Reinhard said Tuesday. The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Jan. 26.
Scores in Anne Arundel and Howard counties
According to Cindy Huang in the Capital, Anne Arundel County scores for the new state tests surpassed the average for elementary and middle school students. Despite higher scores, the majority of county students did not meet the state expectations for college and career readiness in English and math.
Howard County schools issued a press release stating results for Grades 3–8 show Howard County public school students continuing to perform at levels that significantly outpace their peers across Maryland.
“PARCC ushers in a new era of more advanced assessments that can be used to identify where children are and support individual student growth over time,” said Howard County Board of Education Chairman Christine O’Connor. “The new state assessments provide much more relevant and actionable data for parents when monitoring student progress and for educators to use for improving instruction.”
“These results set a new baseline in preparing students for college and careers,” said Superintendent Renee Foose. “PARCC provides more accurate insight on student progress at each grade, which teachers and parents can use to support students and ensure they are on track for success.”