New reading test criteria show most NC 3rd through 8th graders didn't pass their exam this spring

Posted August 5, 2021 4:07 p.m. EDT
Updated August 5, 2021 4:17 p.m. EDT

— New test score criteria approved Thursday by the North Carolina State Board of Education means most of the state’s third through eighth grade students didn’t pass their end-of-grade reading exams this spring.

The board approved state Department of Public Instruction-recommended proficiency level scores for the newest versions of the reading exams and the NCEXTEND1 science exam. The exams were revised after the board approved new content standards in those subjects in 2017, and they were administered for the first time this spring.

Under the new score standards, just more than half of students would have passed their NCEXTEND1 science tests, but just less than half would have passed either the general or the NCEXTEND1 reading exam.

NCEXTEND1 is an alternate assessment used by students with disabilities.

Board members will receive the results of end-of-course and end-of-grade exams at their meeting in September.

Students’ overall test performance for the 2020-21 school year is expected to be lower than normal, after an entire school year disrupted by COVID-19 pandemic protocols that pushed the state’s 1.5 million schoolchildren to remote-only learning, staggered or altered in-person learning, and classrooms led by teachers instructing both virtual and in-person students.

The “cut scores,” or benchmarks for different levels of achievement, approved Thursday were recommended by a panel of 86 educators, state staff and teams at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.

The board voted Thursday after discussing the proposed scores Wednesday.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Maureen Stover, 2020 state Teacher of the Year and a biology teacher, said parents and students should not take the test results too seriously and urged the department to communicate to them that tests don’t determine lifetime education outcomes.

“This is one test taken on one day and that does not dictate whether or not they are really ready to go to college,” Stover said.

DPI Director of Accountability Services Tammy Howard said establishing which scores indicate college or career readiness is federally required and that the state is required to communicate what those scores are to parents.

But Howard said communicating that the tests aren’t a definitive determination of career or college readiness is always a topic of board and DPI staff conversation. She noted that the department is also trying to develop “innovative” assessments and new student reports.

Because the reading and science cut scores are for new tests and were developed through a fresh process, a direct comparison to prior year test results isn’t apples to apples and can’t be made to discern “learning lost” related to the pandemic.

The last year of test results available for reading and science scores at those grade levels is for the 2018-19 school year.

That year, for English language arts, third through eighth grade students testing “not proficient” hovered above 40% for most grades, in both the general test and the NCEXTEND1 test.

For science, NCEXTEND1 results available for fifth and eighth grades showed more than 60% of students passed.

Under the new cut scores, grade level “not proficient” scores ranged from 51.7% to 57.6% on the end-of-grade exam and from 55.9% to 64% on the NCEXTEND1 test.

Just less than 60% of students in each fifth grade, eighth grade and biology passed the new NCEXTEND1 science exam.

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