Louisiana high school students have shown significant improvement over the past four years on end-of-course tests but still have a long way to go, according to figures released Thursday by the state Department of Education.
In some cases, students’ scores at the top performance levels — excellent or good — on a four-level scale rose by nearly 20 percentage points since the 2007-08 school year, according to the department.
“These tests are tangible proof that the state’s education reforms are working,” state Superintendent of Education John White said.
High school students have begun taking the end-of-course exams in the past few years as the state has phased out the Graduation Exit Exam, which tests students on multiple subject areas learned over the course of several years.
The GEE had been a staple in Louisiana public schools.
Walter Lee, superintendent of the DeSoto Parish School System, said the EOC exams are a better indicator of student achievement than the GEE.
“With the GEE, there’s no way to identify which particular year or course a student might have been deficient in,” Lee said.
Under past rules, students had to pass the GEE to earn a standard high school diploma.
A report by the Center on Education Policy found the value of the GEE was hard to prove, and may even hurt high school graduation rates.
The report said one study concluded the exam had no impact on graduation rates, while another review established a link between exit exams and increased dropout rates.
This past year is the last time Louisiana students will take the GEE, other than in a few exceptions, said Scott Norton, assistant state superintendent for standards, assessments and accountability.
It’s not like the state considers the GEE an inherently bad test, Norton said. Rather, the trend in high school education is moving toward EOC exams because they are considered superior, he said.
EOC tests are taken at the completion of English, algebra, biology and geometry courses, and are designed to determine whether students have mastered the specific courses, Norton said.
EOC tests are equally or more difficult to pass than GEE exams, Norton added.
“I would say the EOC test is generally more rigorous,” he said.
Department of Education figures show the percentage of high school students scoring at the “good” and “excellent” levels in algebra has risen from 37 to 56 since the 2007-08 school year.
Louisiana student achievement has risen from 49 percent scoring in the good and excellent levels to 66 percent in English II since the 2008-09 school year, while the percentage of students scoring at those levels in geometry has jumped from 34 percent to 50 percent during the past three school years, according to a state Department of Education compilation.
The department only released data for the past two years in the biology category, which shows students’ scores at the top levels have improved from 43 percent to 51 percent during that time frame.
But Norton said that although Louisiana high school students are showing significant gains over time, the scores are not where the state would like them to be.
“You look at algebra, where the scores rose to 56 percent,” Norton said. “We’re still a low-performing state; we still have a long way to go.”