One question prompted by the standardized public school test results released last week is, “Are students trying their best?”
It’s risky to infer too much from the preliminary information provided in the assessment, but statistics suggest that, as many students move to higher grades, they either don’t understand the material on the new Smarter Balanced standardized tests or they aren’t trying very hard.
Students are allocated a total of eight hours for the English Language Arts and math tests. Here’s how West Virginia students compare with their counterparts in 17 other states who took the Smarter Balanced field test in 2014:
— In grades three, four and five, the average time students used to take the tests was six hours, while West Virginia’s average was 5:47, so pretty close. However, by grade six, there’s a dramatic difference.
— West Virginia sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students used only 4:42 to take the tests, while the average in the 17 other field test states began to trend upward, 6:30.
— By the 11th grade, West Virginia students were spending only 3:25 on the test, while students in the field test were spending more than twice as much, 7:30.
— There appears to be a particular problem in math, where the West Virginia scores were abysmal. Just 20 percent of high school juniors were proficient, compared with 33 percent in the other 17 states. English Language Arts test scores in the 11th grade were better, but still below average (41 percent to 47 percent)
So do many students not understand the math or are they just not trying?
Comprehension may well be a problem because the 11th graders are now on their third different set of standards since starting school. But state School Board President Mike Green says there is also widespread belief that students know that the test scores do not impact their grades so they don’t try.
“The fact remains that a lot of kids figure out that some of these tests don’t really help them, they are not meaningful to them,” Green told me on Metronews “Talkline” last week. “That’s very disappointing.”
Green has met with state school Superintendent Michael Martirano, who is well aware of the problem and working on solutions, ways that the testing will benefit the students as well as the educators.
That has to be a priority. If many students are not doing their best, that skews the assessment. How can educators use the scores to analyze subject comprehension and know where they need to focus instruction if kids are indifferent to the tests because they have no skin in the game?