Fulton Schools Test Scores Improve After Drop Caused by State Changes

You could be forgiven for looking at the scores Fulton students earned on state standard tests and concluding that student performance is dropping fast.

After all, in 2009, 69% of Fulton 3rd graders were judged to be proficient at the state standard for English Language Arts.  In 2011, just 47% were proficient.

The drop was from 77% to 57% proficiency at 4th grade; 82% to 54% at 5th grade, and on and on.

“Does that mean that suddenly, we’ve forgotten how to teach?” asked Board of Education member Brian Hotaling.  His answer: “Absolutely not.”

While it looks like student and teacher performance has taken a nosedive, there’s a fact missing.  The state has raised what the educators call the “cut points”.  It means that it takes a much higher score on a test to qualify as having shown proficiency.

In reviewing the numbers with the board Tuesday night, Fulton administrator Betsy Conners noted that the change in cut points left many students scoring just below the proficiency level.

That’s an expensive problem.  Students who score below the proficiency level have to be given extra instruction.  “There were kids who reached those (proficiency) scores, who now qualify for academic intervention services,” Conners said.

Overall, there were no major changes in the district’s performance.  English scores remain much lower than scores on the math exam; performance tends to improve as students get older; students with disabilities or from low-income homes perform less well.  The numbers show an overall gradual improvement in scores from 2010, when the state changed cut points, to 2011.

There was one surprise in the numbers: A steep drop in scores at the third grade level at Granby Elementary School.  In English, only 27% of Granby students reached proficiency, with the other elementary schools scoring between 48% and 57%.  In math, 31% of Granby students reached proficiency, compared to between 40% and 60% at the other elementary schools.

Conners couldn’t say what was behind the drop but noted that the first step in raising all scores is to make sure that every student is getting the same type and quality of teaching.  “These are the non-negotiables,” she said.