- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Student performance on new, more rigorous standardized tests aligned to Common Core standards was “roughly comparable” to results from tests used in the past, Louisiana’s education chief said Monday.

However, math performance was lower. And the percentage of students who show what state officials currently consider “mastery” of their subject matter is low: It ranges from 22 percent (7th grade math) to 40 percent (8th grade English Language Arts).

Superintendent John White briefed reporters during a midday Monday news conference on the results of the tests developed by the PARCC organization. The state says about 320,000 students in grades 3-8 took the test this past spring.

As in past years, when other tests were used, performance was graded on five levels: unsatisfactory, approaching basic, basic, mastery and advanced.

This year, however, tests were more rigorous. And, they adhered to the Common Core standards, adopted by about 40 states and now at the center of political disputes. Prominent government watchdog groups and business interests in Louisiana favor them but they have drawn opposition from diverse groups including teacher unions and conservatives who say the standards are a federal intrusion.

The issue continues on Tuesday when the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meets. In parsing the results on Monday, White used a system setting threshold scores for each of the five performance levels. BESE, however, hasn’t yet adopted that scale.

White said the thresholds he used on Monday need to be adopted by BESE on Tuesday so the state will be able to compare itself realistically with an array of other states. Ten other states and the District of Columbia used the PARCC test this year.

The Common Core controversy aside, the results showed again that Louisiana has much room for improvement as it tries to give more students the knowledge needed to advance from grade to grade and on to post-secondary education and careers.

And, while White said results were “roughly comparable” to those on the less rigorous tests of years’ past, there were signs that some struggled with the tougher exams. White noted that the number of students achieving the “basic” level of achievement fell, while the numbers in the better “mastery” level, and the worse “approaching basic” ranges both rose. That trend was more pronounced in mathematics but was also present in the English Language Arts results, White said.

“Our hypothesis right now is that this is because stronger students were able to get more points and demonstrate more evidence of their readiness on the challenging tests; and, that students who were lower within the basic spectrum, struggled more with the challenging test,” White said.

The test results and scores play a major role in the state’s accountability system for public schools. They are used in assigning a letter grade to each school and school district, a grade that can, among other things, determine whether a school is performing well enough to avoid a state takeover.

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