Just 10 percent of District students who took a new standardized Geometry test and 25 percent of students who took a new high school English test met proficiency standards designed to reflect whether they are on track to enter college or begin careers after graduation.
Results also show a stark achievement gap, with 52 percent of white students scoring proficient or better on the Geometry test, compared to 8 percent of Hispanic students and 4 percent of black students. Eighty-two percent of white students met the college-ready target in English, compared to 25 percent of Hispanic students and 20 percent of black students.
The high school scores offer the first glimpse of how District students are performing on the Common Core academic standards, which were designed to increase the depth and rigor of what public school students are learning nationwide. The new tests, first administered last spring, are known as Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — or PARCC — and were developed by a consortium of 11 states, including Maryland, and the District of Columbia.
“These results are not easy to see and certainly we have a lot of work to do all together to help our students be more prepared,” superintendent Hanseul Kang told reporters.
As anticipated, scores on the PARCC exam are far lower than recent scores on the DC CAS, the District’s previous standardized tests. Half of the city’s 10th graders were considered proficient in math, and nearly half — 49 percent — of 10th graders were proficient in reading in spring 2014. In the first year of PARCC testing, the scores will not be used to label schools and are not supposed to count against teachers in annual evaluations.
Common Core supporters have described the new test as a wake-up call, an effort to move away from inflated scores that did not reflect what students need to know in the real world. But the reality check could be particularly jarring for high school students who are close to graduation and already making college plans. For example, 38 percent of D.C. students scored in the lowest of five performance levels on the English II test.
Kang said the results should not discourage students from going to college but rather give them more realistic feedback about the kind of support and skills they need in their final years of high school and first years of college.
“Too many of our students are unprepared for first-year college course work, even if they are succeeding in high school and graduating,” Kang said. “They get to college and have to take remedial courses.”
The tests measure different skills. The DC CAS was given to 10th graders, and the math test included both Algebra I and Geometry skills. The PARCC tests are computer-based and course-specific. They were mostly given to 10th graders, but also to other students enrolled in Geometry or English II.
The new test has five performance levels, from 1 (did not meet expectations) to five (exceeded expectations). PARCC considers levels four and five to indicate students are “college and career ready.” In the District and most participating states, that’s the bar students must meet to be considered proficient.
Students were tested in English and Math in grades three through eight and once for each subject in high school. High school results are being released first. Scores for middle schools and elementary schools are expected to be released in the District in mid-November.
Officials said that in the future, they expect to release scores in the summer. The release of scores has been delayed in the first year of the new test.
The superintendent plans to brief D.C. Council members on the scores Tuesday morning, and school-level results are scheduled to be released.
Families should receive detailed reports in December that will show how their children performed on the new tests, including how their scores compare to other students at their school and in their school district.
A potential benefit of the new tests is the ability to compare scores in the District more easily to scores in other states, but that goal has been difficult to realize because a dwindling number of states are participating. Many states pulled out of the collaborative effort in recent years amid widespread criticism of the length and content of the tests and public debate about over-testing and the federal government’s role in supporting common academic standards and tests.
Several states that administered the test last year, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Ohio, do not plan to give it again this school year. Officials in the District have been consistently supportive of the effort.