Aug. 22, 2001 – The territory's public school system was evaluated in one category of testing by the National Assessment of Educational Progress last year, mathematics at the grade 4 level. Compared with 45 states and other jurisdictions, the Virgin Islands finished next to last, outranking only American Samoa, which spends less than half as much money per pupil.
Overall, 1 percent of the V.I. students tested scored in the "proficient or higher" range, while nationwide 25 percent of students did so; 15 percent of V.I. students scored at or above the "basic" level, compared to 67 percent nationwide; and 85 percent of V.I. students scored "below basic," compared to 33 percent nationwide.
The NAEP, also known as "the Nation's Report Card," is a federal testing program that has been in place since 1990. Mandated by Congress, it is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, within the federal Department of Education. Testing is in four disciplines — reading, writing, mathematics and science — at two levels, grades 4 and 8. Tests are now administered in each discipline every other year — reading and writing one year, and math and science the next.
The 2000 results were released this month.
According to information posted on its web site, NAEP "is the only nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas." Further, it is "an integral part of our nation's evaluation of the condition and progress of education."
Reporting of test results is on a comparative basis at four ranges on the scale of possible scores: "below basic," "basic," "proficient" and "advanced."
Basic is defined as denoting "partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade." Proficient is defined as "demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter" — both knowledge and application to real-world situations — "and analytical skills appropriate to the subject matter."
For bottom-ranked American Samoa, the 2000 math grade 4 figures were 95 percent below basic and 5 percent basic.
Directly above the Virgin Islands was Guam: 79 percent below basic, 16 percent basic and 2 percent proficient.
And right above Guam was the District of Columbia: 76 percent below basic, 13 percent basic, 8 percent proficient and 3 percent advanced.
Moving up from there, the statistics take a major leap for the better. Next is Mississippi, with scores of 55 below basic, 36 basic and 9 proficient.
The highest-ranked states were Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts and Minnesota.
Factors behind the figures
Per-pupil spending wouldn't seem to be a determining factor. The V.I. Education Department spent $5,619 per pupil in the last year for which figures were available, according to NAEP, which puts it pretty squarely in the middle. At rock bottom in spending was American Samoa, at $2,393, while at the high end were New Jersey, at $10,086; Alaska, at $9,633; the District of Columbia, at $8,888; and Connecticut, at $8,764. All other jurisdictions ranged from $4,422 to $7,514.
NAEP assessment includes breakdowns of test results by gender and by race. While there was no significant difference between boys' and girls' scores for math in grade 4, there are stark differences by race. Not only for 2000 but also for 1990, 1992 and 1996 (there was no test in 1994), the scores of Caucasian and Asian/Pacific Islander pupils reflect the classic "bell curve," with the most scores in the "basic" range and fewer in the categories above and below. For African-American, Hispanic and American Indian pupils, the preponderance of scores have been in the "below basic" range.
However — and this is an example of where tracking on a nationwide basis provides insight — the size of that "below basic" part of the pie has consistently been shrinking since 1990 for all three of those minority ethnic groups as their scores have slowly but surely risen.
Among African-American students taking 2000 math grade 4 tests nationwide, 5 percent scored proficient or above, 38 percent basic or above, and 62 percent below basic. For black Virgin Islands students, the figures were 1 percent proficient or above, 15 percent basic or above, and 85 percent below basic.
Among Hispanic students nationwide, 10 percent scored proficient or above, 47 percent basic or above, and 53 percent below basic. Among Virgin Islands Hispanics, the figures were 1 percent proficient or above, 12 percent basic or above, and 88 percent below basic.
Little to compare within the V.I.
One value of NAEP assessment to a jurisdiction is to compare the performance of its students with students nationwide and in other jurisdictions. Another value is to chart the jurisdiction's own performance from one testing period to the next.
For the Virgin Islands, NAEP statistics are available only for these assessments:
Math grade 4 — 2000
Math grade 8 — 1990 and 1992
Reading grade 4 — 1992 and 1998
Reading grade 8 — 1998
Writing grade 8 — 1998
While the territory did participate in the 1992 grade 4 math assessment, "in accordance with the legislation providing for participants to review and give permission for release of their results, the Virgin Islands chose not to publish their 1992 results," the Math 2000 Report Card for the territory states.
The Report Card also states that, while 2000 grade 8 math testing was done in the territory, "the Virgin Islands failed to meet the minimum school participation rate guidelines for reporting their results." According to Arnold Goldstein, a NAEP project officer, the requirement is that at least 70 percent of the participating schools furnish data.
Thus, in two areas, comparisons can be made within the territory:
– For grade 8 math, the territory's scores in 1990 were 91 percent below basic, 8 percent basic and 1 percent proficient. Two years later, the results were 90 percent below basic, 9 percent basic and 1 percent proficient.
– For grade 4 reading, the V.I. scores in 1992 were 80 percent below basic, 17 percent basic and 3 percent proficient. In 1998, they were 64 percent below basic, 26 percent basic, 8 percent proficient and 2 percent advanced. Nonetheless, the territory was, just below the District of Columbia, at the very bottom of the chart for grade 8 reading in 1998. The same was the case for grade 4 reading that year.
A 'low-stakes' assessment
The assessment program differs significantly from other testing programs, Goldstein told the Source. Such nationwide tests as the Metropolitan Achievement Test (MAT) and the Terra Nova — both of which have been administered in the territory in recent years — "generate individual scores, and the kids get their test results back," he said.
But with the national assessment, "it's a sample survey test, and its purpose is to measure how the educational system as a whole is functioning."
Goldstein added that NAEP is a "low-stakes assessment," while other tests are often "high-stakes" in that the results "are sometimes used to make decisions about student promotion or graduation, to measure the progress of schools, to evaluate teacher performance and so forth. NAEP cannot be used for any of those things. We don't generate any data below the state or jurisdictional level — you cannot get individual school or district scores."
In a jurisdiction, a sample of 100 schools is selected — meaning that in the Virgin Islands all of the public schools would be included in the "sample." Within those schools, tests are administered to 2,500 pupils in each grade in each subject. Score results are reported in two ways — including and excluding students with special needs. The differences in scores in the t
wo cases appear to be about 1 percent across the board. The territory identified a smaller proportion of students needing "accommodations" than the national average.
There is no cost to jurisdictions for NAEP testing except for an in-kind contribution of "making school staff available to administer the tests, providing rooms and the like," Goldstein said. In addition to the actual testing, NAEP collects background information on the students as a group from teachers and principals on such things as "what pupils do in the classroom, teacher characteristics and school policies," he said.
Samples and subsets are used
There actually is no single test. "We give different students different subsets of the questions," Goldstein said. "They overlap among students, so no one student is taking all of the questions." Using this technique, he said, "we are able to generate very reliable group scores."
A private firm contracted by the National Center for Educational Statistics, Westat Inc., is in charge of overseeing the testing process throughout the nation. "They select a random sample of schools in each state or jurisdiction, and within each school selected, random samples of students from the two grades," Goldstein said. "And they go to the jurisdictions and provide training for the local personnel who will actually administer the tests."
Private as well as public schools are tested, he said, and until last year, all results were tabulated in reporting the results. But effective with 2000, NAEP now uses only public school results to generate the data for the jurisdictions.
NAEP began state-by-state assessments in 1990 for eighth graders. In 1992, fourth-grade testing was added. Jurisdictions have the option of not participating. Last year, the states of Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, New Hampshire, New Jersey, South Dakota and Washington chose not to do so, as did Puerto Rico and the Northern Marianas.
Jurisdictions that did take part in 2000, in addition to the other 42 states, were the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands and the Defense Department's domestic and overseas schools on military bases, known respectively by the acronyms DDESS and DoDDS.
Goldstein said the level of participation has remained consistently at "40-some states," although "most states do their own high-stakes assessments, and often their schedules conflict with NAEP's."
For more detailed information on the NAEP Mathematics 2000 assessment, see nationsreportcard/mathematics/results/. Click on the right-hand option to "View the Report Cards" and then select "Virgin Islands" to see the full report on the V.I. grade 4 math testing.
For the NAEP profile of the V.I. student population and summaries of all NAEP tests administered to date in the territory, see nationsreportcard/VI.
Goldstein said NAEP hasn't asked the jurisdictions yet if they wish to participate in the 2002 assessments. "We should be doing that fairly soon, though," he said.