Scores concern educators

Posted: Monday, December 11, 2000

Kenai Peninsula public school students are scoring above state averages, but there are causes for concern, educators said at the annual review of assessment results.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District administration and school board sat down for a work session Dec. 4 to evaluate scores on standardized tests given to last year's students.

Altogether, the district is giving students five types of standardized tests:

n CAT/5 for grades three, four, seven and 11. It is mandated by state law and evaluates reading, language arts and math in comparison to national averages.

n Analytic Writing Assessment for grades four, six and nine. Picked by the district, it scores student writing samples for mastery of higher-order skills such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

n Achievement Level Tests for grades five through nine. Picked by the district, they evaluate language, reading and math skills in comparison to district curriculum.

n Alaska Benchmark Examin-ation for grades three, six and eight. Mandated by the state, it tests reading, writing and math based on state educational standards.

n Alaska High School Gradua-tion Qualifying Exam, commonly referred to as the exit exam, for grades 10 and up. Mandated by the state, it tests reading, writing and math proficiencies students will need to earn diplomas in the future.

After listening to a presentation by Assessment Director Mark Leal, who compiled the report, the school board members and administrators agreed on specific areas of concern, based on the test results:

n Weak math scores, especially with respect to passing the high school graduation exam, are the top priority, Superintendent Donna Peterson said.

Although their scores are above state averages, many students are falling short of what they need to graduate under the new, more rigorous state requirements. Administra-tors, counselors and math teachers have been meeting recently to discuss coordination from grade to grade and potential changes in the sequence of math courses.

In high school, students probably will need to pass algebra and geometry.

"This has some implications for the kids who have been given the option of not taking those," said Curriculum Director Gary White-ley.

n "The other (top concern) is guaranteeing kids learn to read in the early grades," Peterson said.

The district's average CAT/5 language arts score for third-graders was at the 47th percentile, slightly below national averages, although the reading score was a strong 61. The language arts scores are particularly low for small village schools, where teacher turnover and lack of English fluency may be issues.

n School-to-school and regional disparities are another concern.

Peterson attributed much of the disparities to turnover by either school staff or families. She knows of cases where children shuttle from house to house, parent to parent and school to school. If they stay in one school with the same teachers they tend to do well.

"We have got such a high transiency," she said. "It is really hard on kids."

n A gender discrepancy left school board members scratching their heads.

"Girls perform better than boys on all the tests at all levels," Leal told the school board.

The only areas without a gender gap were high school math scores, where boys catch up.

n Science and social studies measures are not yet satisfactory. The existing tests do not measure subject matter in those basic subjects.

School board member Dr. Nels Anderson said after the meeting that the district is looking for a way to verify that graduates grasp the basics of how the universe functions and of concepts such as citizenship.

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