Delaware Releases Results For 2015 State Assessments

Smarter Balanced scores set new baseline for students’ progress toward college and career readiness

Statewide assessment results released today provide a new baseline for how Delaware students are performing in English language arts and mathematics. The 2015 Smarter Balanced Assessment results are the first ever scores for the test, which is aligned with the Common Core – Delaware’s new, higher, academic standards. By focusing on skills most important for students to succeed in college and the workplace, the results provide teachers and families with a snapshot of children’s progress, helping identify school and student strengths, as well as areas in which they need support.

Statewide, more than half of students in third through eighth grades and in grade 11 were “proficient’ or better in English. In math, almost 39 percent were statewide. Delaware students outperformed estimates – based on a 2014 national field test — in both subjects for every grade with the exception of 11th grade math.

More than four million students took the field test that was used to set expectations for how students would perform when Smarter Balanced was first offered last spring. Following that test, educators, school leaders, higher education faculty, parents and others worked together to develop benchmarks for students to reach different achievement levels (one through four), with students scoring 3 or 4 considered “proficient.”

At the time, then-Smarter Balanced Executive Director Joe Willhoft noted: “Because the new content standards set higher expectations for students and the new tests are designed to assess student performance against those higher standards, the bar has been raised. It’s not surprising that fewer students could score at Level 3 or higher. However, over time the performance of students will improve.”

Grade-level results in English language arts/literacy ranged from a high of 55.5 percent scoring proficient or higher in fifth grade to a low of 48.5 percent in sixth grade. In math, the grade-level results ranged from a high of 53.1 percent in third grade to a low of 23.3 percent in grade 11.

“The Smarter Assessment is harder, and different, from any of our past state assessments. It tests more skills than we’ve ever tested before and does so more rigorously,” Gov. Jack Markell said. “We made this change because these are the skills our children will need to succeed in the rest of their careers and we need to provide them with as much help and support as we can while they are still in our care.

“As we all expected, the overall results of this more rigorous assessment show that we still have a lot of work to do to prepare all of our students for college and careers, but we know our schools continue to make progress, and we are pleased that the results are better than anticipated by the national test.” he said.

As a governing state in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, Delaware partnered with other states to develop the Smarter Balanced Assessment System. Delaware educators have been integral to many aspects of the new assessment system, including question development, standard setting, report development and the creation of professional learning resources for teachers. In spring 2014, educators and students across Delaware participated in the successful national field test of new assessment items and the accompanying technology.

Today’s release included aggregate and grade-level results for the two subjects at the state, district and school levels. Final results, which also will include additional analysis looking at scores by student subgroup, will be released on Thursday, September 17, in conjunction with the State Board of Education meeting.

Statewide English Language Arts Projected vs Actual Proficiency


Note: “Projected” is based on the national field test conducted in Spring 2014. “Actual DE” are the results from Delaware students on the 2015 Smarter assessment.

Statewide Mathematics Projected vs Actual Proficiency


Note: “Projected” is based on the national field test conducted in spring 2014. “Actual DE” are the results from Delaware students on the 2015 Smarter Balanced assessment.

About Smarter Balanced

The Smarter Balanced results measure Delaware students’ progress toward the academic goals laid out in the Common Core State Standards, which were designed to ensure students have the skills and knowledge they need in jobs and college. The standards set learning expectations for what students should know or what skills they should master at the completion of each grade level. Individual districts determine their own curricula and decide how those skills and knowledge are best taught.

Based on the first administration of a completely new state assessment that is aligned to new, more rigorous standards, the 2015 Smarter results represent a new baseline for Delaware students’ performance in English language arts/literacy and mathematics.

The new Smarter exams test different content and skills than the old exams (Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System or DCAS) tested so the scores cannot be compared directly. Recognizing this transition, the state is delaying the use of the results for teacher evaluations for the next two years. As expected, the results look different from those under the old test. This does not mean that students are learning less. Rather, it reflects that the bar has been set higher.

The new Smarter test asks students to demonstrate and apply their knowledge and skills in areas such as critical thinking, analytical writing, and problem solving.

“The results reflect a change in expectations for what students should know and be able to do, not a change in their abilities,” Secretary of Education Mark Murphy said.

While the transition to Common Core required some shifts in ELA, particularly regarding the use of more complex texts and in the areas of research and writing, the biggest changes from Delaware’s previous standards were in mathematics. Changes included the scope and sequence of material as well as procedural methodology. Because of the extent of shifts needed, the transition has been more significant in mathematics compared to ELA in many classrooms.

Over the past few years, the department has provided professional learning to thousands of educators across the state to support this transition, and in the coming year, the state will continue to offer quality professional learning opportunities for educators, particularly those who teach mathematics.  The state also will offer competitive incentive grants for districts and charters to further their educators’ professional learning around Common Core. And the state is looking at other innovative professional learning opportunities to strengthen supports for Delaware’s math educators.

Value of the assessment results

While no single test can give a complete picture of achievement, annual assessments can provide important information about student progress and areas for improvement, especially when combined with student grades and teacher reports.

Educators use the assessment data in many ways. The scores are used to examine how well students are doing in districts, schools, grades and individual classrooms. Importantly, districts use this data to investigate how aligned their curriculum is to the standards—what children should know and be able to do in each grade. They also use it to make decisions about where to focus professional learning for their educators. Principals can use this information to help understand if certain grades or classrooms are doing especially well and should be models—or identify where teachers or students might need extra professional development or support. Teachers can use the information about their current students to see if extra focus is warranted in a specific skill area.

“This is important data for our schools as a whole. It gives us a baseline so that our educators can use the results to identify students’ strengths and needs to be addressed this year. It also gives us important information about where curricula is well aligned to the standards or where we need to adjust it this year,” Colonial School District Superintendent Dusty Blakey said.

Indian River Superintendent Susan Bunting agreed.

“Our teachers will be digging into these data in the coming weeks as they meet with their peers in professional learning communities, looking for trends that show how their classes and schools can adjust instruction to better prepare students with the skills they need,” she said.

New Castle County Vo-Tech Superintendent Vicki Gehrt, president of the Delaware Chief School Officers’ Association, said the results establish a new baseline that “enables all of us to know where our students stand regarding their Smarter score.

“Whether they want to go to college or straight into the workplace, students need to be able to think critically and solve complex problems,” she said.  “We must collectively stand committed to providing our teachers the necessary professional development and resources to further strengthen their instructional delivery, ensuring that our students have the skills to empower their future success.”

Nationally, states are in various stages of score reporting. In time, scores of all states using the assessment will be aggregated and provide more context for student performance across the country.

Find results by district and school here.

For more information about the new assessments, families should visit


Delaware Educators Celebrate the Transformation of Student Learning

Photos from the event

Showcase how collaborative professional learning is changing Delaware classrooms

Dover, DE – Nearly 400 educators packed a large auditorium at Dover Downs Monday, April 20th to showcase how they are engaging their students more deeply in learning, using techniques and strategies they picked up by participating in the Department of Education’s rigorous, year-long professional learning experience called Common Ground.

The 2015 Bright Spots Common Ground 2.0 Celebration brought together educators from fifteen districts and eight charter schools from around the state. Common Ground was created to support educators as they transitioned to the Common Core State Standards, which are grade level expectations in English language arts and mathematics that are designed with college and career readiness in mind.CommonGround

“You represent an impressive coalition of leaders dedicated to doing whatever it takes to give every Delaware student the best chance for success,” Governor Jack Markell told the group. “You have taken on the tough but important work of making the standards come to life in the classroom.”

Gov. Markell was among the governors who led the effort to create the Common Core standards, which are being used in more than 40 states. “These new standards mean nothing unless our teachers have the support they need to make them work,” he said.

Supporting Educators with Race to the Top

Common Ground provided clinics, online webinars, large-scale meetings of participants, national experts as speakers and ways for participants to collaborate. It was one of the ways the state used funds from its federal Race to the Top grant to support educators as they transition to the Common Core standards.

“Delaware is changing the way educators engage in professional learning,” Michael Watson, the DOE’s Chief Academic Officer, told the group. “We know that effective professional learning is very intensive, it’s ongoing, and 100 percent connected to practice and student outcomes.  That’s what Common Ground embodies.”

In a survey conducted earlier this year, 89 percent of Common Ground teachers and principals said they were using what they had learned in the sessions to give students assignments that required them to have deeper knowledge; 86 percent said the Common Ground sessions had helped them engage students in their learning with expectations aligned with the Common Core.

Keynote speaker Steve Leinwand, a principal research analyst at American Institutes for Research and a nationally recognized leader in mathematics education, praised the way Common Ground was helping teachers make the transition to the Common Core standards.

“The expectations for teachers have really been ramped up,” Leinwand said. “The only places that I have seen consistently high-quality instruction and teaching and learning aligned to the Common Core is where there is collaborative structures and coaching. Teachers need time to interact.”

Discovering Students’ Needs

Educators at Shields Elementary School (Cape Henlopen) used formative assessment techniques learned through Common Ground to discover that their students had not mastered key mathematical concepts, even though their test scores were high. This led to a school-wide implementation of Number Talks, a program that provides students with the computational fluency to prove, reason and defend math answers in the classroom.

“It is exciting to be able to use professional development that really reaches all students,” Shields Elementary Principal Jenny Nauman said. “What we’ve been able to do is give them confidence in the classroom and the ability to share what they are thinking and follow someone else’s reasoning too.”

Nauman and a group of Shields Elementary teacher leaders presented their Number Talks findings at the 2015 National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM) National Conference in Boston this spring.

Including Everyone in the Transition to New Standards

Bobbi Kilgore, Principal at Banneker Elementary (Milford) agreed that Common Ground has been a huge benefit to their school. In the two years that Banneker has been a part of Common Ground, not only have Common Core elements been implemented in traditional classrooms, but expressive arts teachers are also implementing curriculum changes.

“We’ve included everyone in our building in the changes we’ve made through Common Ground,” Kilgore said. “What we’re learning has taken on a culture within our school so that teachers really work together. They find out what students are really struggling with and then find a way to reach them.”

Odyssey Charter School in Wilmington is implementing more math reasoning in the classroom thanks to Common Ground. “Common Ground has led me to ask more challenging, more open-ended questions,” math teacher Vassilios Guidoglou said. “We’re getting answers you wouldn’t expect, and that’s really extending student learning to the next level.”

Intriguing Students

Math teacher Brittany Rehrig said the biggest takeaway from her Common Ground experience was learning to construct lessons that intrigue students. “When students are captivated, they’re more collaborative,” she said. “They feed off each other and have really positive communications. It’s not old-fashioned instruction that grabs their attention anymore.”


Delaware Colleges Say Smarter Balanced Assessments Are Good Measure Of College Readiness

Governor’s remarks from the event

Students who do well will not have to pass placement tests and can take credit-bearing courses

Dover, DE – Four institutions of higher education in Delaware—the University of Delaware,  Delaware Technical Community College, Delaware State University and Wilmington University—all have said students’ scores on the state’s new 11th grade Smarter Assessments are a good measure of college readiness and will be accepted in lieu of a separate placement test, Gov. Jack Markell announced today.  SmarterBalanced

High school juniors started taking the Smarter English language arts (ELA) and Smarter Mathematics assessments Monday and all students will complete them before June 4. The colleges’ decisions mean that students who score 3 or better on the tests’ 4-point scale now will be able to enroll in credit-bearing English and mathematics classes, as long as they meet certain other conditions, and can avoid taking costly remedial classes that not count toward graduations. They also will not need to pass a separate placement exam.

Those placement exams are offered during the summer before students’ first year in college, at a time when they have not been engaged in studying the subjects, meaning they may be more likely to be placed in remedial courses that they do not need.

The criteria colleges used for accepting students are not changing. Admitted students will still have the option to choose to take placement tests to qualify for credit bearing courses.

In 2012, more than half the Delaware public school graduates who enrolled in in-state colleges had to take remedial classes because they were determined to be not ready for college-level work, according to Delaware’s State Report: College Enrollment, Remediation, and Performance. National data shows that less than 50 percent of students who take remedial classes will complete the class hindering their ability to receive a college degree.

“Today’s announcement marks another important step toward giving Delaware students the best chance to succeed in continuing their education beyond high school,” Governor Markell said. “Delaware’s colleges and universities are not only sending our high school juniors a clear signal that the Smarter Assessments are a valuable tool. They are also showing a commitment to preventing students from taking unnecessary remedial courses, which too often put students off track before they even start their college education.

Smarter Assessments emphasize the importance of a deep understanding of subject matter, critical-thinking, problem-solving, writing and reading more complex materials—all skills necessary for success in college. Those skills are stressed in the Common Core State Standards that Delaware teachers have used in their classrooms in recent years. The standards are not a curriculum but are a set of clear, consistent guidelines for what students should be able to do at each grade level in math and ELA.

Secretary of Education Mark Murphy said the colleges’ decisions “show that they believe the Common Core standards are rigorous and that the Smarter Assessments provide a good measure of college readiness.”

Delaware State University Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Alton Thompson agreed. “Delaware State University supports the use of the Smarter Balanced Assessments for placement because we think it’s a great idea to give students incentives to master the Common Core State Standards,” he said. “If they master those standards, as measured by the assessments, we feel confident that they’ll be able to handle college-level work. We have to demonstrate that our students are learning in order to be considered an effective institution and this will help us do that.”

Dr. Mark Brainard, the president of Delaware Technical Community College, said, “Our focus at Delaware Tech has always been to provide access to higher education and we view the Smarter Balanced assessment as an additional means to demonstrate college readiness and facilitate students’ transition to college. We will continue to collaborate with the Department of Education and the school districts on this and other initiatives to prepare students to be successful.”

The Governor announced the agreements with the colleges at the University of Delaware.

“The K-12 school system is working hard to prepare students to enter college and the workforce and the Common Core State Standards help chart a path that students can follow to reach those goals,” University of Delaware President Patrick T. Harker said. “By setting policies around the Smarter Balanced Assessments, we can be sure that students are ready for our entry-level courses. That’s good for the school system. It’s good for institutions like UD. And most of all, it’s good for students and their families, who will know—early and often—where they stand on the path toward college or work.”

Wilmington University also will use Smarter Balanced assessment scores in making placement decisions but is working out details of the new policy. Jim Wilson, Wilmington University’s Vice President of Academic Affairs, said accepting the scores “is in line with our mission of providing opportunities for higher education to students of varying ages.”

In addition, Wesley College is considering how it will treat students’ Smarter Balanced assessment scores. “Wesley College is enthusiastic about exploring options to help our Delaware students transition successfully to college,” Dr. Patricia M. Dwyer, Wesley’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, said.

Delaware is one of 19 states and territories that are members of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which created the assessments. “This is a game changer,” said Tony Alpert, Smarter Balanced Executive Director. “In the past, most state tests had no linkage to higher ed. Smarter Balanced has worked with states and higher education to give meaning to high school exams.”

Alpert noted, “Reducing students’ need for remediation can go a long way toward meeting state and national goals for increased degree attainment, as research has consistently shown that students who enter college without need for remediation are far more likely to complete a degree.”


Delaware Takes the Lead in Tackling College Readiness and Retention

Data released from project with Harvard will help state continue work on improving college graduation rates

Delaware took a major step today toward improving low college graduation rates that are holding back the capabilities of our workforce nationwide. Governor Jack Markell and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy joined researchers from the Strategic Data Project (SDP), a program of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University, to release findings on Delaware students’ college readiness, enrollment and retention, presenting one of the first thorough analyses done for any state by SDP. The project continues the data-driven approach to student achievement that helped Delaware win the Race to the Top federal funding competition.

With the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reporting barely half of college freshmen in the country earning a postsecondary degree within six years and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems finding that only 20 percent of high school freshmen reach that important milestone, Delaware partnered with SDP  to document and better understand outcomes among Delaware’s young people. The state will use this analysis to inform policy initiatives to improve high school graduation, increase enrollment in college and other career pathway programs, and improve college retention rates in partnership with school districts and charter schools.

fDSCF9032 “To give Delawareans the best opportunity to succeed in the global economy and to build a workforce that attracts new and expanding companies, we must give our young people the best chance to graduate high school and successfully pursue further education and training,” Markell said, “Our strategies to improve educational opportunities can only succeed if we fully understand the obstacles that prevent students from reaching their potential. The data released today gives Delaware an advantage in determining the most effective way forward.”

Delaware College-Going Diagnostic: An Analysis of The First State Students’ College Readiness is the result of work between SDP and the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) using six years of data from the DDOE and the National Student Clearinghouse. The diagnostic examines students’ progression through high school, how well they stay on track for graduation, and whether they enroll and persist in postsecondary education.

Delaware Progress

Having acknowledged the national scope of the issues detailed in the report’s findings, Delaware has taken steps to boost college and career readiness.

The diagnostic found some recent progress, including a steady increase over the past four years in the number of Delaware high school freshman who remain on track for graduation.

  • In 2008, 19 percent of ninth-graders finished the year behind, as compared to 12 percent in 2012. During that time and in conjunction with their Race to the Top plans, several Delaware school districts have implemented “Ninth Grade Academies,” summer preview programs and other initiatives that provide more individualized attention to freshmen and help with the transition from middle school to high school.
  • Underscoring the importance of freshman performance, the data show that when students fall behind in credits by the end of the ninth grade, only 30 percent graduate on time and half drop out.
  • The data support the importance of strengthening transitions from middle to high school and offering more support for freshmen: Most students who fall off track do so during their freshman year (70 percent) while a much smaller percentage fall off track in Year 2 (17 percent), Year 3 (8 percent) or Year 4 (5 percent).

Through legislation, executive action and its Race to the Top plan, the Markell Administration has implemented policies centered on four key components. These efforts deal with the issues raised by the report by helping current and future high school students become college and career ready.

  • Raise expectations for all students with the Common Core State Standards and world-class curriculum, including the Governor’s World Language Expansion.
  • Expand high-quality early childhood education opportunities for our highest-need students with the Early Childhood Strategic Plan, recognizing that kids who enter kindergarten behind often cannot catch up by high school.
  • Elevate the education profession with more meaningful educator preparation and professional development.
  • Use data to drive decision-making and continuous improvement with top-rated data systems and statewide professional learning communities in which all teachers regularly meet in small peer groups to review student progress and share best practices.

Key Findings

Overall, the statistics unveiled today will allow the state to better target particular efforts to the students who would most benefit. Among other findings released to a gathering of educators, higher education leadership, community leaders and other partners at P.S. duPont Middle School in Wilmington:

  • The analysis shows great variation in the percentage of students who progress from ninth grade into college among high schools.
    • The highest high school rate shows 81 percent of ninth-graders persist to their second year of college. The lowest high school rate is 4 percent.
    • Some schools’ success seems especially promising and worthy of further study to see what is working and how that success can be replicated across the state.
      • For example, Brandywine High School has a seamless college enrollment rate far above the state average for those students entering its school who were in the bottom quartile of math performance statewide (41 percent in Brandywine compared to 25 percent statewide) and top quartile (80 percent in Brandywine compared to 71 percent statewide).
  • The analysis suggests it is critical to catch students up who are behind in middle school: Students who performed better in eighth grade are much more likely to graduate high school on time and progress to college.
    • Of those entering ninth grade in the top quartile of their class, 92 percent will graduate on time and 66 percent will make a seamless transition to college.
  • Of those entering ninth grade in the bottom quartile of their class, 61 percent will graduate on time and 15 percent will make a seamless transition to college.
  • Highly qualified low-income students are more likely to ‘under-match’ in their college choices.
    • 27 percent of highly qualified low-income students are not going to college and 55 percent enroll at selective four-year colleges.
  • While statewide 30 percent of Delaware’s ninth-graders remain in college by their second year, the percentage is lower among students who come from low-income families and students of some racial subgroups.
    • 17 percent of low-income ninth-graders persist to their second year of college.
    • While 35 percent of white ninth-graders remain in college by their second year, 14 percent of Hispanic and 22 percent of black ninth-graders do.
    • Asian ninth-graders had the highest rate at 54 percent.

State Agenda Moving Forward

Other initiatives are underway at the local and state levels to address these statistics, including:

  • Assisting with the College Application Process
    • Through ‘Summer Nudge’—a partnership between the Delaware Department of Education, the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University and the College Board—the state is actively reaching out via a variety of media to students identified as ready for college who have not enrolled, with the intent of providing support and resources to facilitate their transition to college.
    • This year, the state will expand last year’s pilot of College Application Week to a College Application Month, offering this program to more schools across the state.
    • The state is working with U.S. Department of Education and state Office of Volunteerism to support and expand FAFSA nights, chances for families to get information and support filling out the federal form for student financial aid.
  • Preparing Middle School Students
    • The state recently launched a program through which schools can receive funding to implement an approved middle school college preparation program that particularly targets high-need and low-achieving students.
  • Transitioning from High School
    • Through the College Access Challenge Grant, the state has been working to increase the number of students in dual enrollment courses, giving them a college-going experience and college credits while in high school.
    • Race to the Top funding has also supported graduation coaches, who are assigned to students to ensure they remain on track and pursue the path that best suits them.
    • Through the School Improvement Grant process, districts have split high schools into multiple schools that focus on specific career interests, such as business, arts and STEM.
  • Tracking Student Performance Effectively
    • The state has invested in new data systems that allow administrators and teachers to more quickly recognize specific struggles of individual students.
    • Leaders in K–12 education and higher education also convene regularly to better understand student data and share techniques that produce the best results.