Statewide student performance assessment results point to long road ahead


Statewide assessment results for the 2022-23 school year show students continue to need extra support, according to a release from the state Department of Education.

Showing progress were two central Delaware districts, a release indicated.

In English language arts, 40% of students in grades 3-8 scored at or above their grade’s proficiency level, down two percentage points from last year. In mathematics, 32% of students in grades 3-8 scored at or above their grade’s proficiency level, up two percentage points from last year.

Like other states, Delaware has been dealing with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and what some critics view as the failure of the public education system. Districts are also dealing with staff shortages.

Delaware’s public school rankings among the 50 states usually put it in the upper half, but there has been long-running criticism over the years. Delaware is also next door to New Jersey, which is one of the top-performing states, but struggles with a high property taxes for schools.


In Delaware, state government and private organizations like Rodel have been working to improve student performance.

Reasons for the student performance often divide along party lines, with Republicans claiming decades of mismanagement and wasteful spending by Democrats. Dems and members of minority communities, point to a school aid formula, since overturned in Chancery Court, that awards funds on a per pupil basis rather than taking into account performance gaps.

The business community has also been unhappy wth performance as it relys on hiring workers in need of basic skills. Organizations have been been involved in reform efforts over the years.

Gov. John Carney has been able to add limited funds to the state budget that aim to address performance gaps.

For high school statewide assessment, Delaware uses the SAT. This year 44% of students scored proficient or higher on the reading test, down three percentage points from last year, while 23% scored proficient or higher in mathematics, down one percentage point from last year. On the essay test, 42% scored proficient or higher, up four percentage points from last year.

“We know recovery will take time, and we will not be deterred,” Secretary of Education Mark Holodick said. “We will continue to invest in the academic and non-academic supports students need so they can succeed in the classroom. To no one’s surprise, this effort will also require the work of everyone committed to Delaware students, including families, educators, community partners and beyond. As a support agency to Delaware districts and charter schools, the Department of Education is in a unique position to develop tailored playbooks for these groups in the coming weeks so that we are maximizing teaching and learning as well as best practices across the state. To rebound from what we’ve been through is going to require everyone’s effort.”

A release stated that the state is seeing promise when disaggregating the data to look more closely at the district and school level. For example the Lake Forest School District saw gains in both ELA and math. At Lake Forest North Elementary the gains were significant; 65% of students scoring proficient or higher in ELA, a 15-percentage point increase from last year. In math, 67% of Lake Forest North students scored proficient or higher, up 13 percentage points from 2022. Lake Forest High School saw SAT growth in reading and math as well with 2023 proficiency higher than pre-pandemic levels in both subjects.

“Our job at the department is to look at where we are seeing growth such as in Lake Forest and uncover lessons that can support other schools in our state,” Holodick said. “I congratulate Superintendent Lucas and his students and educators for their hard work that led to their success this year.”

Superintendent Steve Lucas credits his district’s collective commitment to data-driven teaching and use of multi-tiered systems. Lake Forest’s principals are collaborating and sharing best practices.

Performance level data

In addition, the Department of Education sees an opportunity to look beyond proficiency and see where students are showing growth on the scale that leads to each of the four performance levels to see whether students are making gains within each performance level even if they are not yet reaching the next level.  Students who score at a Level one or two are not considered proficient. Levels three and four are calculated together to get the proficiency percentage. By looking at student performance within all four performance levels, one may be able better to understand progress for groups of students over time.

Scale score growth over previous year by performance level

For example, within performance levels, Smyrna School District saw double-digit average scale score growth from pre-pandemic to post-pandemic levels on grade 3-8 assessment. The district has prioritized instructional investments such as the adoption of high-quality instructional materials for mathematics in 2018 and ELA in 2022 and participation in the Bridges High Quality Professional Learning Network.

“When we look at performance level changes statewide, we can see our students are growing. Some have not reached the cusp of the next performance level so you don’t see that growth in the proficiency scores, but they are making important progress,” Holodick stated.

More 2023 results

In science, Delaware tests students in grades 5, 8 and high school biology. For 2023, 24% of fifth graders scored proficient or higher, up three percentage points from last year; 16% of eighth graders scored proficient or higher, down one percentage point from last year; and 22% of high school biology students scored proficient or higher, down 4 percentage points from last year.

In social studies, 26% of eleventh graders were proficient this year, up two percentage points from last year.  This compares to 24 percent proficiency in the 2021-22 school year. Eighth-grade results for the state’s new social studies assessment will be released next month.

Delaware administers an alternative assessment for students with significant cognitive disabilities. Find more information on this assessment as well as the ACCESS English language proficiency assessment here.

Families received their student reports in the mail last month.

For full results, including demographic and district/charter information, visit the Delaware Open Data Portal.