Students across Delaware sat down at computers in June and took the last-ever full round of testing with the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System or DCAS.

Students across Delaware sat down at computers in June and took the last-ever full round of testing with the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System or DCAS.

When spring rolls around next year, students will take a brand new assessment, as well as a shortened version of the DCAS that only covers science and social studies.

For the past four years, the DCAS has been the lone state standardized test used to measure student progress. Next year, the Smarter Balanced Assessment will be administered in schools across Delaware as well.

Smarter Balanced is the assessment that measures student knowledge under the new Common Core curriculum, which aims to provide a set of common educational standards across the country, specifically in the subjects of math and English language arts.

The Smarter Balanced assessment will be given to students in third through eighth grades, as well as high school juniors. In addition to the spring testing period, students can be given interim assessments throughout the year to gauge their progress, but one test in the spring will count for their official score.

Students will still take the DCAS in science and social studies because Smarter Balanced does not currently cover those subjects. The science test will be administered to students in grades 5, 8 and 10. Social studies will be administered to students in grades 4 and 7, as well as students studying U.S. history, which is typically taken in 11th grade.

Students in the Caesar Rodney School District fared well on the DCAS this year, with 85.02 percent of students meeting state standards, a decrease of 1.06 percent over the 2012-2013 school year.

In the Capital School District, 68.1 percent of students met standards, which is an increase of 0.25 percent over last year.

The number of students meeting state standards is expected to drop next year as the new assessment is rolled out, according to Brian Touchette, director of the office of assessment at the Department of Education.

“We’re looking at the numbers this year and they’re reading that at or near 70 percent of students are meeting proficiency or were advanced,” he said. “With Smarter Balanced, that number is expected to be a fair bit less. We don’t know an exact number and we won’t know until the assessment is complete.”

LaWanda Burgoyne, the district assessment and school improvement specialist for the Capital School District, has been told that scores may drop so much that they may be equal to the percentage of students that received advanced scores on the DCAS. In the Capital School District that amounted to 31.03 percent of students this year. In the Caesar Rodney School District it was 46.05 percent of students.

One of the reasons that scores are expected to decline is because the Smarter Balanced is a different type of test. The majority of the questions on the DCAS are multiple choice, while the Smarter Balanced tasks students with providing more written responses. The content is also expected to be more rigorous, Touchette said. 

However, lower scores on assessments are not necessarily an indication that Delaware students are slipping in their studies, according to Kevin Fitzgerald, superintendent of the Caesar Rodney School District.

“Not only is the assessment new, but so are the standards,” he said.  “Not having more time to implement strategies prior to a new assessment will often show a decrease in scores while students, in fact, are learning more and doing academically better.”

Another adjustment that districts will have to face is a lack of Smarter Balanced test for 9th and 10th graders.

The Delaware Department of Education has given districts four options to deal with this gap in the 2014-2015 school year, according to Touchette.

Those options include administering one of the interim Smarter Balanced tests as a way to measure progress in those grades, administering a version of the PSAT test, giving an assessment created by the district or foregoing testing those students altogether.

Both the Capital and Caesar Rodney School Districts are still trying to determine what course of action they will take next year, according to district officials.

With no direct relation between DCAS and next year’s Smarter Balanced scores, it is also unclear whether data collected from the first year of the Smarter Balanced tests will be immediately useful in determining student performance.

“We keep asking that,” Burgoyne said. “We don’t know because what we have been told by the state is that next year’s scores will not count for teacher evaluations and they will not count for administrator evaluations. However, they will be used for school and district accountability. What that’s going to look like? I have no idea, I wish I knew. Until we get students in taking test and have something to compare this year’s 10th DCAS to their 11th grade Smarter Balanced, we won’t have any correlation between what to expect from students.”