Learning from the latest NECAP results: Part II

In last week’s Commissioner’s Update, I shared with you an analysis of the statewide math and reading results for the 2013-14 New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP), administered this past October.

With the exception of Grade 5 math and writing, we saw flat or declining scores in all other grades and content areas. Digging into the data shows us where strengths and struggles are, and focuses improvement initiatives.

One area of continued concern is the huge gaps in proficiency when comparing males and females, and economically disadvantaged students with their peers who do not qualify for free or reduced lunch.

In Grade 3, 59 percent of females are proficient in mathematics, but that number drops to 54 percent in Grade 8. Meanwhile, 61 percent of males are proficient in Grade 3 and 59 percent in Grade 8, 5 percent higher than their female classmates.

The disparities are even greater in reading, where female students come out far ahead and show great growth between Grades 3 and 8. In Grade 3, 72 percent of females and 64 percent of males are proficient in reading, and by Grade 8, 79 percent of females and still 64 percent of males are proficient, a 15 percent gap. What messages are being sent in and out of school that would explain this data and what supports are in place to ensure that both male and female students are encouraged to thrive in both content areas?

The gaps between economically disadvantaged students and their classmates is even more glaring. In math, there is a 23 percent gap between Grade 3 economically disadvantaged students (47 percent proficient) and their classmates (70 percent proficient) and a 28 percent gap between Grade 8 economically disadvantaged students (40 percent proficient) and their classmates (68 percent proficient).

While we know economically disadvantaged students arrive in school at an academic disadvantage, the fact that they are losing so much ground once they are in school compared to their classmates is concerning. Schools should conduct their own local analysis to see patterns and consider the supports they have in place – including how they are using both State and federal funds targeted at closing achievement gaps. Additionally, our Department will continue to provide resources to help school support low income students be high academic achievers, including hosting upcoming webinars and featuring exemplars on our website.

It should be noted in reading, the gaps between economically disadvantaged and their peers are slightly smaller, but significant, though all students show improvement which speaks to the need I wrote about last week for schools to focus on improving math instruction at the K-8 level.

In looking at the scoring on the released items, some obvious areas emerge on which to concentrate.

In mathematics, the challenges (indicated by the released items correctly answered by less than 40 percent of students) were as follows:

Grade 3: Functions & Algebra, Geometry & Measurement, Short Answer
Grade 4: Number & Operations Word Problems, Number & Operations Fractions
Grade 5: Number & Operations Word Problems, Number & Operations Fractions
Grade 6: Geometry & Measurement (volume), Geometry & Measurement (lbs/oz)
Grade 7: Number & Operations Algebraic Expressions, Numbers & Operations Percents
Grade 8: Number & Operations Algebraic Expressions

In reading, the challenges (also indicated by the released items correctly answered by less than 40 percent of students) were as follows:

Grade 3: Constructed Responses
Grade 4: Constructed Responses, Words/Vocabulary
Grade 5: Constructed Responses
Grade 6: Constructed Responses
Grade 7: Constructed Responses
Grade 8: Constructed Responses

Constructed responses require higher-order thinking, something demanded by our updated Maine Learning Results and by higher education and employers. An example of the type of question that measures a student’s ability to analyze and explain information is as follows (and was presented with a passage of text): Explain how the author’s use of eyewitness accounts contributes to the reader’s understanding of the passage. Use information from the passage to support your answer. Of the 4 points available on that question, 1.1 points was the average score among Maine’s eighth-graders.

While 2013 marked the last NECAP administration as Maine moves to a next generation assessment system aligned with its recently updated academic standards, we hope schools are looking closely at their results. Ultimately, it is by doing this level of analysis locally that you can most meaningfully improve instruction and student learning.

One response to “Learning from the latest NECAP results: Part II

  1. Barbara Powers

    Compelling final analysis as a state overview. To me it speaks of the continued need for the type of targeted intervention required by RTI, at least partially funded by Title I grants. This data could justify in great detail for the legislature the reason those title funds should be added to GPA, not subtracted from the EPS-generated total. Our high poverty schools and their children deserve as much financial and professional support as possible.

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