Tests break down differently at schools

Homer, Aurora Borealis students consistently score higher than district average

Posted: Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Assessment tests don't always tell the whole story.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District recently released a report detailing school and district averages on a series of assessment tests administered to students during the 2001-02 school year.

And while the scores are valuable, Sam Stewart, the district's curriculum and assessment director of secondary education, warned that a single year's scores do not always give an accurate representation of what's going on at a school.

The district prefers to look at scores over a few years to identify ongoing trends.

However, one trend noticeable this year -- and in the past, according to Stewart -- is that not all schools score the same.

While the district is in good shape, leveling out just above the state average, individual schools within the district are doing both better and worse.

For example, students in the Homer area and at Aurora Borealis Charter School consistently scored well above the district average.

"The Homer area traditionally scored very well, and that's a tribute to their schools and community. There's more than just any one thing that causes that," Stewart said.

"Charter schools usually require a higher level of parent involvement and as a result show higher test scores. Aurora Borealis did do very, very well."

The following is a break down of the individual tests administered throughout the school year and a quick look at how the district, and its individual schools, ranked:

Terra Nova

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development required students in grades four, five, seven and nine to take the Terra Nova, or CAT/6, for the first time this year.

In the past, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has administered the CAT/5 -- a shorter, slightly less comprehensive test.

The three-hour Terra Nova tests students in reading, language arts and mathematics. Tests are scored by percentile. For example, a score of 60 means the student scored better than 60 percent of students taking the test nationwide. A score of 50 would be average.

The district averages for all three subjects at all four tested grade levels was above average -- ranging from 53 to 65.

Individual schools, however, ranked both better and worse than the district average.

Kalifornsky Beach, Nikiski and North Star elementary schools, Nikolaevsk School, Voznesenka School, Kenai Alternative and Connections each averaged below the 50th percentile in at least one subject for at least one grade. The small schools averages through the district also dropped below the 50th percentile in all subjects for the fifth, seventh and ninth grades.

Other schools showed exceptionally high average scores on the tests, though. McNeil Canyon Elementary in Homer had averages ranging from 63 to 80. North Star fourth-graders averaged 68 in both reading and language arts, with a 70 in math. West Homer Elementary scored a 72 in fourth-grade reading and a 70 in fifth-grade reading. Ninilchik had a steady stream of scores in the high 60s and mid-70s, with the lowest average at 59 for seventh-grade language arts.

Homer Middle School pulled 80s in seventh-grade reading and math and a 75 in language arts. Homer High scored 75 in ninth-grade reading and math, with a 72 in language arts. Kenai Central High School scored in the upper 60s and low 70s in ninth-grade subjects.

Aurora Borealis Charter School topped the charts with an 83 in fifth-grade reading and an 89 in seventh-grade math. The charter school's other averages were all in the 70s.

Analytic Writing Assessment (AWA)

The AWA is a performance-based test administered in three 45-minute sessions, with one session taken per day. It is taken by students in grades five, seven and nine. The test is scored based on six traits: ideas and content, organization, voice and tone, word choice, sentence structure and writing conventions. Two raters score each paper from 1 to 5, then the two scores are averaged for a final score. The average score is 2.5, though the district aims for all students to score at least a 3.0.

The district averaged a 2.9 for fifth-graders and 3.0 for both seventh and ninth grade tests. No school in the district dropped below the 2.5 average, and most met or exceeded the 3.0 goal.

The lowest school averages in the district -- 2.5 -- were scored by fifth-graders at Nikiski and Seward elementary schools and by a composite of small schools at the fifth- and ninth-grade levels.

The district's highest average was scored by seventh-graders at Homer Middle School, who averaged a 3.7. Aurora Borealis Charter School seventh-graders and McNeil Canyon Elementary fifth-graders came in second with averages of 3.6.

Alaska Benchmark Examination

Both the Alaska Benchmark and Alaska High School Graduation Qualifying Exams are state-mandated assessments testing reading, writing and mathematics. The tests consist of multiple-choice, short constructed response and extended constructed response questions. The Benchmarks are administered to students in grades three, six and eight. Students may start taking the HSGQE in grade 10. Scores from the 2001-02 HSGQE are not yet available.

The Alaska Benchmark is scored in proficiency levels. Students are ranked advanced, proficient, below proficient or not proficient by each subject.

The vast majority of students throughout the district ranked either advanced or proficient. In grade three, 80 percent of students were advanced or proficient in reading, 58 percent were advanced or proficient in writing, and 76 percent were advanced or proficient in math.

In grade six, 77 percent of students were advanced or proficient in reading, 81 percent in writing, and 70 percent in math.

In grade eight, 88 percent were advanced or proficient in reading and 73 percent in writing.

Eighth-grade math scores, however, hit a low spot in the assessment. Only 44 percent of eighth-graders in the district ranked advanced or proficient in math.

The test scoring index also includes a set of passing level scores for individual sub-skills within each subject. Eighth-graders in the district failed to meet these passing level scores for math skills. All other averages exceeded the passing level skills.

Stewart explained this anomaly by noting the scoring indexes for the different grade level tests were set up independently, meaning they do not naturally progress by year. Students may score high on math skills in third and sixth grades, then do poorly in eighth grade. It is a problem with the scoring system, not the students' education, he said.

"In my opinion, the grade eight math test is not an accurate assessment. Last year's ninth-graders had similar scores, but scored in the 68th percentile in math (on the Terra Nova)," he said. "The state needs to do some reevaluating, in my opinion. I think they would tell you the same thing, and it's probably the next thing they'll tackle."


The DIBELS and CBM tests are given to students in kindergarten through third grade to measure basic skills in reading. Students are tested three times each year to determine whether they are on track for learning to read.

The tests measure younger students' ability to recognize letter sounds and older students' speed at reading.

"Basically, it's measuring their reading fluency -- how many works they read in a period of time -- to make sure they are on line in learning how to read," said Paula Christensen, the district's curriculum and assessment director of elementary education.

The district goals aim for students to read 40 words per minute by the spring of grade one, 90 words per minute by the spring of grade two, and 110 words per minute by the spring of grade three.

According to the 2001-02 spring test results, 71 percent of district kindergartners had established the necessary letter-sound skills. That score includes 100 percent of kindergartners passing at McNeil Canyon and 78 percent at Paul Banks Elementary, though only 45 percent at Seward Elementary and 38 percent at Soldotna Elementary.

By the end of the first grade, 96 percent of the district's students were proficient at identifying letter sounds, and 63 percent achieved the oral reading fluency goal of 40 words per minute.

Second- and third-graders are not tested on letter sound identification, only reading speed. Sixty-two percent of the district's second-graders and 65 percent of the district's third-graders reached their grade-level goals.

On the high end of the charts, 100 percent of Susan B. English School second-graders (there were four of them) met the goal, while 83 percent of Tustumena Elementary's third-graders achieved the goal.

On the low end, only 41 percent of Seward Elementary second-graders and 44 percent of Nikiski Elementary third-graders met the goal.

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