CHAPEL HILL – ACT test scores in North Carolina have dropped in 2013, including here in the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools, and some predict state test scores will decrease as well. System leaders say this is due to a shake-up in the North Carolina Education System, which in the end, they believe will be better for students.
Diane Villwock, CHHCS’s Executive Director of Testing & Program Evaluation, Instructional Services, said that the new End-of-Grade and End-of-Course tests have been realigned with the ACT, the test now used as the state’s measure for college readiness.
“I’m going to predict that the proportion of Chapel Hill Carrboro City School students who pass these [state] tests is going to be between 50 and 75 percent,” Villwock said. “I think many students are going to score at lower achievement levels than they did the year before because we’ve raised the bar.”
She said the predicted drop in test scores will not be a reason for parents to panic.
“That’s because we raised the bar. It doesn’t mean children went backwards, lost ground, didn’t learn enough, that kind of thing,” she said.
Villwock explained that the North Carolina Education System has undergone several major changes recently.
“The big thing that happened last year is that we moved to a brand new curriculum,” Villwock said. “It was all new. and you are working through some things. You can imagine, if you were teaching a new course, what that would take.”
The new curriculum is called the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The state adopted CCSS because research showed that North Carolina’s students were not ready for college coursework or the workplace.
“So this year when we go to analyze test score data, we are not going to do a head-to-head comparison of the 2011-2012 proficiency rates, and this year’s standards because it is like comparing apples to oranges,” Villwock said. “We will be concentrating on growth because that is the one measure that manages to go across this change between tests and curriculum changes.”
Another major change is that several years ago, the State Board of Education decided that the ACT would be the state’s measure of college readiness. The SAT had been the most widely used college admission test in the past.
North Carolina’s high school class of 2013 scored last in the nation on the ACT, according to results released Wednesday. In CHCCS, there was a three percent drop in the number of students who met all four bench marks in the core subjects of English, reading, mathematics and science, according to Villwock.
North Carolina is now one of only nine states that require every high school junior to take the ACT, not just students who plan to attend college. In 2012, before the mandatory requirement, the state ranked above the national average.
Villwock said the numbers may seem discouraging, but the changes in testing are a part of a greater goal to get students prepared for college. She said to raise test scores, students need to be taking the accelerated courses through out their K-12 education.
“We need to really be working with counselors to ensure that we are getting every child into honors kinds of courses who can tolerate them, so that they are being stretched,” Villwock said. “They need to take four, good math courses. Those are the things that makes ACT scores higher.”
CHCCS implemented a series of three tests to measure whether students are on track for college readiness. The first assessment is given in the eight grade, another in the tenth grade and then finally the ACT.
“So we are going to know students, by November/December of the eighth grade, whether or not they are really on that trajectory and it is going to be another piece of data to put next to their End-of-Grade Tests in seventh grade,” Villwock said. “We are going to know which kids are or are not on that trajectory, and what we need to do to move that trajectory for them.”
Some have criticized the increase in standardized testing, including North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory.