Students measure up on tests: District scores well above state average

Posted: Tuesday, October 07, 2003

When juniors and seniors in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District retake failed portions of the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam this week, their scores will not be among those counted toward district schools' "adequate yearly progress" rankings under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

But there are plenty of other tests in the district that do count toward the school scores.

Students in the district and across the country now take a host of assessment and standardized exams, testing not only their skills and knowledge, but also the quality of their schools.

In fact, students in the district take at least one such assessment test each year.

In addition to the HSGQE, these tests include:

The Terra Nova, a state-mandated, standardized test comparing students to others across the nation. It is administered to students in grades four, five, seven and nine.

The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) and Curriculum Based Measurement (CBM), which help teachers assess whether students are "on track" in reading. These are administered in kindergarten and grades one through three.

The Analytic Writing Assess-ment, which is a performance-based assessment of students' writing skills. It is given to students in grades five, seven and nine.

The Alaska Benchmark Exams, state-mandated assessments in reading, writing and math, which are given to students in grades three, six and eight.

The HSGQE, Terra Nova and Alaska Benchmarks are the three exams used to determine a school's adequate yearly progress under the state's No Child Left Behind compliance plan.

In August, the state announced the schools that did and did not meet AYP last year. In the KPBSD, only about half of the schools 20 out of 41 met the mark.

However, the district has maintained that most of the non-AYP schools failed not because of low test scores, but because of a lack of participation.

In fact, according to the annual assessment result report released by the district this summer, most students are doing quite well on the AYP-related tests.

On the Alaska Benchmarks, for example, the district's percentage of students ranking "advanced" or "proficient" was higher than the state's percentage in all categories during last year's tests.

Reading scores in particular were extremely high in the district, with 83 percent of third-graders, 75 percent of sixth-graders and 88 percent of eighth-graders scoring "advanced" or "proficient." On the state level, the same rankings applied to only 75 percent of third-graders, 70 percent of sixth-graders and 82 percent of eighth-graders.

Math and writing scores were a bit lower both in the district and across the state, but the district still came out ahead. For example, the district's lowest percentage of "advanced" and "proficient" scores came in the eighth-grade math assessment, with only 46 percent meeting the mark.

However, that compares to only 40 percent of eighth-graders across the state scoring "advanced" and "proficient" in math.

Individual schools, however, do have varying achievement rates on all the tests, with some scoring well-above the district averages and others scoring quite a bit lower.

The district's small schools Cooper Landing, Fireweed Acad-emy, Hope, Kachemak Selo, Moose Pass, Nanwalek, Razdolna and Tebughna had collective scores below the district and state averages.

Rural Voznesenka also scored a bit low in some categories, such as third-grade writing (38 percent "advanced" or "proficient") and eighth-grade math (27 percent "advanced" or "proficient"). How-ever, Voznesenka also had some high scores, particularly from the sixth-grade class, which had an 86 percent proficiency rate in reading, an 88 percent in writing and an 84 percent in math.

Nikiski schools, which occasionally are identified as lower-performing sites, also had varied test results. Nikiski Elementary tended to score lower than North Star Elementary on the Benchmarks, but scores at both schools were up over the previous year.

For example, only about 41 percent of Nikiski Elementary sixth-graders had proficient math scores in 2002. In 2003, the number jumped to about 59 percent.

While such numbers only give a vague picture to outsiders, district officials have pointed out that teachers, principals and parents can track individual students' scores from year to year, identifying strengths and weaknesses and helping students improve their skills.

And, of course, the tests will continue to play into schools' accountability ratings under the No Child Left Behind Act.

While district officials have said they will do their best to continue improving student achievement, they added that parents and students can help as well, especially by making sure kids show up to take the tests.

In addition to this week's HSGQE retakes, more assessment tests will be offered throughout the year as follows:

DIBELS and CBM were administered in September and will be given again throughout the months of January and April;

The Analytical Writing Assessment will be given Jan. 26 to Feb. 6;

The Terra Nova will be Feb. 16 to 27;

The HSGQE will be given to sophomores, juniors and seniors Feb. 17 to 19; and

The Alaska Benchmarks will be administered March 17 to 19.

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