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

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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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