High Stakes End-of-Course Test Results Are Encouraging

By: cowen | August 26, 2011

Earlier this month the Louisiana Department of Education (LDE) released the results of End-of-Course (EOC) tests for its public high schools.  EOC tests are, according to the LDE, “designed to measure whether students have mastered the knowledge, skills, and abilities at the end of courses” and are based on the state’s grade level expectations.  EOC tests are replacing the Graduate Exit Exam (GEE) that was formerly given to all 10th and 11th graders.  Students had to pass the GEE in order to receive a diploma from a Louisiana public high school.  Beginning with incoming freshman in the 2010-2011 school year, students must pass three EOC tests, in Algebra I or Geometry, English II or III, and Biology or American History, in order to graduate.  In this blog post, we will consider Algebra I passage rates for all public schools in New Orleans and by school type.

While EOC tests have been given for a few years now, freshmen who began in the fall of 2010 are the first to take them for high-stakes purposes.    Algebra I is typically taken in the 8th or 9th grade, while the other EOC tests correspond to courses typically taken in the 10th, 11th, or 12th grades.  Thus, the Algebra I test results for 2010-2011 are the first that are representative of a group of students where the vast majority are taking the test as a requirement for graduation.

For all public schools in New Orleans, all school types, and the state of Louisiana, the percentage of students “passing,” or achieving a designation of Excellent, Good, or Fair, on the Algebra I EOC test was higher than the passage rates for the math portion of the GEE.  Overall, 73 percent of students passed the Algebra I EOC test, compared with 63 percent who passed the math portion of the GEE in 2011.  As with the GEE passage rates, public schools in New Orleans are within 7 percentage points of the state average.

Percentage of Students Passing the Algebra I End-of-Course Test, 2010-2011

RSD-run schools continued to show the lowest passage rates.  While BESE charter schools overall had a fairly low percentage of students passing the Algebra I exam, this was due to the large number of 8th graders taking and failing the test at one elementary school, which brought down the average significantly.  The one BESE charter high school, the International High School, saw 64 percent of its students pass.  OPSB-run and RSD charter schools both had passage rates that mimicked the state average.

While greater percentages of students in all school types are passing the Algebra I EOC test than the GEE, there is significant variation in the percentage of students scoring Excellent and Good.  Likewise, individual schools within these school types show significant variation.  To view a spreadsheet of each school’s scores, click here.  However, as a whole, public schools in New Orleans saw percentages of students scoring Excellent and Good on the exam that were similar to the state average.

Percentage of Students Scoring at the Fair, Good, and Excellent Levels on the Algebra I End-of-Course Test, 2010-2011

Students perform better on the Algebra I exam than the GEE; there could be a number of reasons why.  While the math portion of the GEE was given to all 10th graders regardless of the courses they were enrolled in, the Algebra I exam was given at the completion of the course, while the information that was taught is still fresh.  Additionally, advanced students who took Algebra I during their 8th grade year were also given the exam and their scores are likely to be higher than the general 9th grade population.  We also cannot discount the possibility that the Algebra I exam is simply easier to pass than the math portion of the GEE.

However, the possibility remains that entering 9th graders in 2010-2011 are generally better prepared for high school than older students due to the improvements that have occurred system-wide since 2005.  As EOC test passage rates are released each year, it will be interesting to compare them to graduation rates, the percentage of students enrolling in college, the percentage of students required to take remedial classes, and ACT scores.  Doing so will allow us to examine whether passing EOC exams are a proxy for student preparedness for college and careers.  In the meantime, given that most school types saw relatively high passage rates, these scores offer some hope that improvements in public education at the K-8 level are paying off for students now entering high school.

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