In the spring of 2016, the Department of Education successfully completed its second year of testing using the new Smarter Balanced assessments. The tests are aligned to higher academic standards being taught in Virgin Islands’ public schools and provide teachers and parents with more accurate information of how well students are performing as they prepare for college or the career of their choice. This year’s Smarter Balanced scores show students, territory-wide, have made gains when compared to scores from first-year testing that occurred in the spring of 2015.
In English Language Arts (ELA), the percent of students that met or exceeded standards increased by 3 percentage points year over year. Improvement in literacy occurred at the elementary (grades 3-6), junior high (grades 7-8), and high school (grade 11) levels. Encouragingly, the percentage point increase in ELA was most pronounced in 8th grade (4 percentage points) as students prepare to transition to high school, and in 11th grade (3 percentage points) as they prepare to pursue higher education and enter the workforce.
The average student in the U.S. Virgin Islands demonstrated growth at every grade level in both ELA and Mathematics. The greatest average student growth occurred at the elementary level, followed by secondary schools and junior high schools last. In most schools, average student growth was evident, even in key subgroups such as special needs students and English language learners.
The data also indicates that there has been an increase in the percentage of students performing at an exceeded-standards level (1 percentage point or a 34 percent increase from spring 2015), and a decrease in the percentage of students who fell within the below-standard category (3 percentage points reduction in ELA/literacy and 2 percentage points reduction in math) of not having met the targeted standards.
The 2015-16 four-year cohort graduation rate increased by 3.5 percentage points as compared to the 2014-15 school year. The four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate is the percentage of students who graduate in four years with a regular diploma divided by the number of students who formed the adjusted cohort for the graduating class. Improving the graduation rate is a key strategy for economic growth in the territory. When high school graduation rates increase, it can result in a wave of economic benefits, such as higher individual earnings, home and auto sales, jobs and economic growth, spending and investment, and tax revenue.
While second-year data is undoubtedly encouraging, our work continues. In order to accelerate the growth we have achieved, continued professional development is necessary in the area of differentiated instruction so that teachers can more effectively engage students that have not met USVI standards while simultaneously challenging those students who have met or exceeded standards. As teachers and support staff receive on-going targeted support, and as students continue to adapt to the standards and the heightened academic expectations of those standards, we expect to see long-term progress across the territory.
With the advent of the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that was signed into law by President Obama in December 2015, the Virgin Islands Department of Education is in the process of revising its accountability system to ensure that the Department meets all requirements set forth by the law. The Department has convened a territory-wide taskforce to take a more in depth look at how student and school success are defined. The redesigned accountability system will be implemented in the 2017-18 school year and will include measures of achievement, growth, English language proficiency, graduation rate, and school quality. Furthermore, with the careful crafting of the Department’s Strategic Management Plan well underway, providing a keen focus on student achievement, we are poised to see a significant turnaround in the operation of the Virgin Islands public education system.
For more information, please visit the Virgin Islands School Report Card website, which offers important information about the progress of the Virgin Islands public education system at the school, territory, and district levels: https://vivisdata.vi.gov/CustomContent.aspx?id=7.