More than half of NC students labeled proficient in end of grade reading and math tests

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RALEIGH, North Carolina — More than half of North Carolina students earned passing marks on reading and math tests after state officials altered the way they evaluate grade-level proficiency, according to results released Thursday.

The results for the 2013-2014 school year show that about 56 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 scored high enough on end-of-grade tests to be considered grade-level proficient in reading. In math tests, about 51 percent of students were considered proficient.

The results reflect a change approved in March that expands the criteria for students to be considered proficient. Because of the change, some students who would have been previously labeled as failing to meet grade-level requirements are now considered to have sufficient skills to advance to the next grade.

Last year before the change, less than half of students in grades 3 through 8 scored in the proficient range on reading and math.

During a state Board of Education meeting where the data was released, board member A.L. Collins from Kernersville asked Department of Public Instruction officials for help interpreting the new system. Previously students were labeled as being in one of four levels based on the standardized tests, but the rankings have been expanded to five categories.

Now, children in the top three categories are considered grade-level proficient, while previously only students in the top two were.

"I think we need to have some way, No. 1, of comparing last year and, No. 2, I think we need to be able to evaluate whether this descriptor is actually achieving what we are wanting it to achieve. And I don't have a particular answer or concern other than just a lot of questions about what we do with that this year."

During and after the meeting, state education officials cautioned against comparing the most recent results with the previous year because of the change.

"Comparing it to last year is really not that productive," Tammy Howard, the Department of Public Instruction's testing expert, said after the board meeting. "The true comparison will come at the end of this year."

Asked after the meeting whether the new system devalued the worth of a proficiency label, state schools superintendent June Atkinson said it doesn't.

"The purpose of adding the extra level was to have more granular information for school districts to use in order to determine what type of help students need," she said. "I don't believe it devalues the score. It just gives more detailed information on which to personalize education for every single child."

For the most recent school year, about 68 percent of students were proficient on science tests given in grades 5 and 8. Meanwhile, in end-of-course high school subject tests, 61 percent were proficient in English II, 60 percent were proficient in Math I and about 54 were proficient in Biology.

In a separate measure of college readiness, about 59 percent of juniors who took the ACT met the minimum requirement for admission into the state university system, a slight increase from the previous year.

The 2014 graduation rate also inched up, with about 84 percent of students finishing high school in four years or less.

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