Cowen report: Younger children do better on state standardized tests this year

The littlest Louisiana test-takers tended to outperform older students this year, according to a report released Tuesday.

The trend held in New Orleans.

The report, produced by Tulane University’s Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives, analyzes performance on state iLEAP and LEAP tests. The scores, released May 27, are a measure of third- through eighth-grade performance.

In addition to examining pass rates, researchers also looked at how quickly schools were hitting a new testing standard – the  “mastery” level, which is second-highest level of test performance. By 2025, students will have to hit this mark to pass tests. Now, students can score a “basic” and pass tests, the middle tier. But state officials say “basic” isn’t stringent enough for college.

Third-graders did the best job of reaching “mastery” on state English and math tests, and older students did progressively worse, researchers noted. Thirty percent of the state’s third-graders hit this mark, but only 22 percent of eighth-graders did.

In New Orleans, the Orleans Parish School Board continued to outpace the state-run Recovery School District. Third- through eighth-graders in both districts followed the statewide trend, but OPSB’s performance was generally higher – about 16 percent of RSD’s third graders in English scored a mastery and above, while about 50 percent of OPSB’s third graders did. OPSB’s third-grade performance was about the same in math, while RSD’s was about 20 percent.

Overall, OPSB is second in the state for the percentage of students reaching mastery, while RSD is near the bottom.

Other insights from the report:

  • The Cowen Institute tracked two groups of pupils. Students who took the third-grade test in 2012 did best in fourth grade, where students must pass tests to advance to the next grade. Performance dropped in fifth grade. Sixth-graders from 2012 tracked over the same period also saw declines: OPSB’s sixth-graders tended to do worse over three years in both English and math, while RSD’s sixth graders did slightly better in English and slightly worse in math.

  • If a school’s fourth-graders scored well in English, chances are, fourth-graders did well across the board. But that’s not true of eighth-graders, researchers found, further illuminating younger students’ better performance.  If students don’t pass these two grades, they have to take remedial coursework and can be held back.

  • While the OPSB performs better than RSD, RSD has grown the most over time: from 2010 to 2014, RSD’s pass rates increased by 11 percentage points. OPSB’s pass rates only increased by 2 points.

Cowen’s findings about younger students scoring better generally held true for New Orleans schools The Lens analyzed. In math, the median percentage of students scoring a mastery and above in both English and math was higher in third and fourth grades, and declined in fifth through eighth grades. In both English and math, fourth graders did better overall.

Michael Ripski, executive director for the Achievement Network, a nonprofit that provides benchmark testing for more than 60 of the state’s schools, said it’s “not uncommon” for younger students to best older peers – a trend that could be caused by any number of factors.

But: “This is not a hard and fast rule. There are schools in New Orleans that have the reverse trend,” he said.

Lagniappe Academy, where eighth graders overwhelmingly passed English and math, is one of them. Nearly half of those eighth graders achieved a mastery and above in English, although only 16 percent did so in math.

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About Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her reporting on charter school transparency and governance. In 2012, she was part of a team that received a National Edward R. Murrow Award for their work following a New Orleans family's recovery after Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Edna Karr Secondary School in Algiers, and she obtained her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. She can be reached at (504) 575-8191.

  • nickelndime

    So, who is going to compare 2025 test results to now? This is unbelievable! This is like the OPSB charters who will be required to particiipate n the one App by 2021. Honestly, if anyone is still here in Louisiana by then, they deserve it!

  • nickelndime

    YOUNGER CHILDREN DO BETTER ON STANDARDIZED TESTS THIS YEAR? For real? Young children will “do better” on standardized tests in any year. Trust me.

  • Jessica Williams

    Curious, nickelndime – why do you think that is?

    I found it interesting that younger kids would outperform older ones, given that older kids have had more practice with standardized tests.

  • nickelndime

    Ah, Jessica! It is the nature of the BEAST, called “standardized testing.” You have already discovered for yourself something about it. I am going to suggest that you consult a “named” source, other than an anonymous blogger, who is objective (definitely not someone on the payroll of a testing firm or one who has an iron in the fire, like the State Department of Education) to explain test development, perhaps a professor who teaches an advanced course in this field. IMPORTANT: The longer the test, the more reliable and valid it is. So, it follows that if you take the same standardized instrument and assess the student year after year, you are getting a truer assessment of that which it is you are assessing. And there is so much more to say.

  • scotchirish

    The way these results are reported makes them impossible to evaluate.

  • nickelndime

    Michael Ripski of the Achievement Network is NOT an objective source, and standardized test results cannot be attributed to trends. His nonprofit provides Benchmark testing. He makes money off of this, and he does not sound like he knows what he is talking about, especially in the area of standardized testing. Get another source, and no, nickelndime won’t get you there.

  • scotchirish

    The schools have not had the chance to dumb down the younger children. Their turn will come.

  • Debby Head Matassa

    Money is exactly what it’s all about. Making money on the backs of children.

  • nickelndime

    You got that right, Debby Head Matassa. It’s about the money. If they could figure out how to get the money without the children and the teachers, they would do it. EDUCATION is the final frontier, not SPACE or the OCEANS. When corporate America and the law firms realized the billion-dollar enterprise that was being untapped, they rushed in, and well, that’s where we are now, and New Orleans is one of the greatest examples of greed, power, and corruption in professional education. PR and the hype coming out of the nonprofits are that we are on the forefront of the greatest educational experiment, a/k/a “charter movement.” But if these individuals were not making millions off of this, they wouldn’t be buzzing around here like flies/bees or whatever.

  • JCL

    Here’s the problem – the tests from 2013 can’t be accurately compared to 2014 and we don’t know the cut-offs for the categories (i.e., we don’t know what whether a “basic” score from one year is the same as the next year).