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Common-Core Tests in Georgia Show "Drops" in Math Proficiency

UPDATED

A new batch of results on end-of-course math tests taken by Georgia students appear to provide another illustration that as states prepare to start giving tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards, they may have to prepare for significantly lower proficiency rates and less-than-glowing headlines.

As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported earlier this week, 58.6 percent of students failed to meet the proficiency standard on the new algebra test aligned to the common core, the new math content standards adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, including the Peach State. The test is part of a revamped set of high school end-of-course tests in Georgia—for students enrolled in the 9th grade beginning in July 2011 or later, the course counts as 20 percent of their final grades in the new algebra course. For the 2011-12 year, this end-of-course test became the new high school accountability measure in the state.

Many are highlighting the scores in the context of the common core, which is often advertised as more rigorous by officials in states trying to prepare their K-12 communities for proficiency drops when results are compared to previous exams used for accountability purposes. The obvious comparison is Kentucky, which last November publicized the first results from explicitly common-core-aligned tests and showed big proficiency drops, such as a 33-percentage-point drop in elementary school math proficiency. (Proficiency rates in math seemed to suffer a little more than those rates in reading.)

But just how big was the proficiency drop in Georgia from the previous comparable test?

The Journal-Constitution notes that on previous test for the Math I course, 45 percent met or exceeded the proficiency standard in 2011 (the previous administration of the test, which is administered in the winter, spring, and summer, according to the state). That means, naturally, that 55 percent did not meet the proficiency standard. So the share of non-proficient students increased by four percentage points from Math I to the new end-of-course test. That's significantly different from some of the jumps in "non-proficiency" in Kentucky. (UPDATE: According to the raw data from the Georgia department, in fact, only 39.9 percent of students scored below proficient level on the "winter" administration of the Math 1 test in the 2011-12 school year. So it looks as though the real drop in proficiency was just under 20 percentage points, not 4 percentage points as the Journal-Constitution reported. So that drop is still not quite as dramatic as the Kentucky proficiency decreases, but it's roughly in the same ballpark one could say.)

According to statistics from the department, of the remaining 41.4 percent of students who scored at least proficient, just 6.7 scored at the most advanced level.

It should also be pointed out that the total share of proficient students in math on these Georgia tests is roughly in the same ballpark as proficiency rates in math in both elementary and middle school in Kentucky (40.4 percent in elementary schools and 40.6 percent in middle schools). This may just be a coincidence.

Of course, there's the argument that the true proficiency of students did not really drop from one test to another. The new scores are simply a more accurate reflection of true student proficiency, this line of reasoning goes. (How to classify true "proficiency" is another debate as well.)

Officials told the newspaper they have no plans to abandon the new test. Not surprisingly, they also highlight Florida as a state that has gone through similar score-drops on new, tougher tests.

"The results that we've seen are in line with what we're seeing in other states that have adopted and implemented the common core," Melissa Fincher, associate superintendent for accountability and assessment in the Georgia department, told the paper.

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