Learning from the latest NECAP results: Part I

Earlier this week, the Department released the state-level results for the 2013-14 New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP). The test was administered back in October and districts have had (and hopefully been closely analyzing) their individual results since January.

From the state-level data, we can see that while the majority of Maine’s elementary school students are still proficient in math (60.2 percent) and reading (69.1 percent), there are concerning performance declines across the board. While proficiency went up in Grade 5 math and writing and was flat in Grade 3, 5 and 7 reading as well as Grade 7 math, it was down in both math and reading for Grades 3, 4, 6 and 8.

Just as we as a Department encourage you to dig into your data to inform your understanding of challenges and opportunities, we’ve been doing the same here.

One of the first things we noticed is that the percentage of proficient students in Grade 3 (which measures Grade 2 skills) has dropped in math from 63.9 percent in 2011-12 to 59.6 percent in 2013-14 and in reading from 72.2 percent in 2011-12 to 67.9 percent in 2013-14. While those declines are reflective of different cohorts of students, it’s concerning that our students are increasingly falling behind by the cornerstone third grade. As we’ve continued to expand early learning opportunities in recent years, it’s troubling to not see those yield increases in proficiency and reinforces why the priority must be ensuring the quality of our early childhood offerings, rather than simply the quantity. Schools can look locally at the progress of their early learners (4YO-Grade 2) and provide interventions in those beginning years to ensure students are on track for success when they enter Grade 3, where they’ll first be assessed for State and federal accountability.

We’re also seeing similar declines when we look at Grade 8 proficiency, which has dropped in math from 60 percent in 2011-12 to 56.2 percent in 2013-14 and in reading from 76.9 percent in 2011-12 to 71.3 percent in 2013-14. As we all know, where students are in Grade 8 is a predictor of their success in high school and beyond so while we are glad to see a majority of students in this grade are proficient, we need to reverse the troubling downward trend.

When we track actual cohorts of students, we also see decreases in proficiency as they move through Grades 3-8. Since being initially assessed in Grade 3 back in 2009-2010, the current Grade 7 class has seen a decline in math proficiency from 62.1 percent to 59 percent and in reading from 72.5 percent to 68.9 percent. The current Grade 8 class has also lost ground in their math proficiency, from 61.8 percent when they were in Grade 4 to 56.2 percent this past fall. We were encouraged however to see the reading proficiency of that class has actually risen over the past five years, from 67.1 percent to 71.3 percent. If you’ve seen similar improvements in your school of a cohort in a certain content area, it would be valuable to look at what programming you’ve initiated in that time frame that may be responsible for those results.

Improving math instruction should be an area of focus. While at the high school level, math and reading proficiency are fairly comparable – both just under 50 percent, in Grades 3-8, math proficiency is 60.2 percent on average statewide – nearly 10 percent below reading proficiency. We suggest schools look at professional development sessions to build math content knowledge for their K-8 staff, and that educators taking recertification courses consider those in math. Upcoming opportunities can be found on Maine DOE’s professional development calendar and include these two events being hosted in early April by the Association of Teachers of Mathematics in Maine (ATOMIM), which we shared with you in last week’s Commissioner’s Update.

We also encourage schools to think about how they are communicating assessment results to their parents. When parents are informed about the needs of their students and school, the real conversation about how they can support learning at home and in the school can occur.

In next week’s Commissioner’s Update welcome, I’ll share with you our findings about gender and poverty gaps, and also focus on the strands within math and reading where we saw our students have the most challenges. In the meantime, anyone can explore their district’s detailed NECAP results in our Data Warehouse. Schools are also reminded they have more complex analysis tools available to them through their individual portals on the Measured Progress assessment site, including the ability to look at the performance of different populations, classrooms and test items.

One thought on “Learning from the latest NECAP results: Part I

  1. While I agree that more professional development in math at the K-8 level (paragraph 7) is a good idea, I don’t understand why the teaching of math and reading at the high school level isn’t identified as a concern given that the proficiency level is 10 points lower at high school.

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