Student participation rates in Forsyth County low on required tests

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Eighteen Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools are being penalized by the state after failing to administer tests to all eligible students, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Parents of students at a dozen local high schools, several middle schools and as many nontraditional schools can expect to receive letters next month, detailing the district’s failure to meet participation goals on state-mandated tests like the ACT and WorkKeys, an ACT-branded test for career and technical education students.

As part of the state’s waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act, districts are given a set of Annual Measureable Objects that include targets for both performance and participation on a host of state-mandated tests, like end-of-grade and end-of-course assessments, and the ACT, which is mandatory for all high school juniors. The objectives measure performance for the entire district, for each school and for subgroups within schools, like those based on race, socioeconomic factors and academic achievement.

(Image: The Winston-Salem Journal)

(Image: The Winston-Salem Journal)

The district failed to meet 55 of those goals on last year’s exams, 11 of which were participation targets.

The district is required to test at least 95 percent of all eligible students for each exam, in each subgroup. It failed to do so for the ACT, the WorkKeys exam and missed one other participation target.

District officials said weather was to blame for the poor participation rates on the ACT, which impacted the majority of high schools. Superintendent Beverly Emory said the original test date for the ACT was canceled because of snow, as was the planned makeup day. Emory said it was a struggle to find another date to test students later in the year and that hurt participation.

The struggle with participation on the WorkKeys assessment was also new last year, Emory said. In previous years, schools were able to print a roster of students, seniors who had taken a certain sequence of career and technical education courses, who should be taking the exam. When the state switched to a new data management system last year, the new system didn’t allow the district to create such a roster, meaning schools had to sort through student transcripts to find who should be taking the exam. Some students were missed, Emory said.

The letters to be sent home – part of the year one penalty – are required to include the district’s plan for improving participation. Emory said the district is looking to place the WorkKeys testing under the district’s accountability department, which handles other testing, and is looking to provide rosters of eligible students to make that process easier this year.

“I really don’t think our plan will be difficult or that we can’t achieve it,” she said.

The district also failed to meet more than 40 performance targets on end-of-grade and end-of-course reading, math and science exams, among others. John Worley, director of accountability, said that though scores grew slightly in most categories, they failed to keep pace with the rising standards. The performance targets increase for each year of the six-year waiver, meaning they will go up again next year. Whereas the district met more than 80 percent of performance targets for elementary and middle school reading, math and science assessments in 2012-13, it met just 68 percent of reading and math targets this year. Performance on science targets was unchanged. Performance on high school English and biology targets also fell, from 90 and 95 percent, respectively, to 65 percent.

Worley said the district failed to meet achievement standards most often for Hispanic students, those with limited English proficiency and low-income students.

“Those targets are going to go up every year,” Worley said. “The work we have to do exponentially to meet that is quite challenging.”

The letters that will go home next month are for schools that missed participation targets only. Those results will be presented to the State Board of Education on Oct. 2 and the letters will follow within 30 days.