Scores blamed on test-writing

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Most area educators are blaming a poorly-written question forslips in nearly all area scores on one section of the state SubjectArea Test.

The SATP tests all high school students in six subject areas -Algebra I, U.S. history, biology, English II multiple choice,English II narrative writing and English II informativewriting.

In the English II narrative and informative tests, students werepresented with prompts, paragraphs describing a scene or a picture,and asked to write a story.

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Two of the three school districts in Lincoln and Lawrencecounties, as well as Wesson Attendance Center, saw scores slip inthe English II narrative category, according to results of the testreleased last week by the state Department of Education.

“That was a problem statewide,” said Sharon Dungan, federalprograms and testing coordinator for the Lawrence County SchoolDistrict. “The students just didn’t understand one of theprompts.”

One-third of the students taking the test failed the English IInarrative in Lawrence County. Statewide, 85 percent passed.

Wesson Attendance Center Principal Billy Britt also blamed apoor choice of prompts for his students’ drop on the narrativetest.

“We feel like the problem was with the prompt,” he said. “Itwasn’t that we wrote bad, it was that we wrote off-mode.”

The prompt, which differed from all the others in that it wasvisual and not narrative, confused the students, Britt said.Instead of writing a narrative for the prompt, they wrote in theinformative voice and were automatically disqualified.

Only three of the same group of students failed the test for theinformative writing portion of the test, Britt said.

“These were some of our better students,” he said. “They werejust thrown off by the prompt and got confused.”

At Wesson, 76.9 percent of the students passed the test.

Lincoln County School District scores dipped, but stayed justunder the state average with 83.9 percent passing.

Brookhaven School District was the only district to post apassing percentage over the state average. The district had asuccess rate of 90.6 percent. It also performed above the stateaverage on the English II informative test, posting a 93.4 percentpassage. Other scores, however, held at or dipped below the stateaverage.

James Tillman, interim superintendent of the Brookhavendistrict, said he was pleased with the results. Although hisstudents maintained a strong passing grade in the test, he alsoshared some concerns about the prompt.

Concerns from many of the superintendents are being heard at thestate Department of Education, admitted Dr. John Jordan, deputystate superintendent.

The testing division of the Department of Education isconsidering those concerns while drafting up the next round oftests, he said.

In other areas of the SATP, all districts showed a majority ofpassing percentages above 80 or 90 percent.

Aside from the English II narrative, Wesson Attendance Centerheld the highest passing percentage in all other subjects testedamong the area schools, passing 97.2 percent in Algebra I, 98.5percent in U.S. history, 97.3 percent in biology, 94.9 percent inEnglish II informative and tying with Lincoln County SchoolDistrict for top score in English II multiple choice at 89.6percent.

On the other side of the scores, Brookhaven School Districtfared the worst in U.S. history with 92.2 percent passing, underthe state average of 95.7 percent, and in biology with 88.9 percentpassing, dipping slightly under the state average of 89.2percent.

Lawrence County School District also lagged behind the otherschools in two subject areas with 88.2 percent passing Algebra I,under the state average of 90.7, and 79.8 percent passing theEnglish II informative, down from the state average of 89.2percent.

Russell Caudill, superintendent for the Lawrence Countydistrict, said the tests are an important tool districts use tolocate weak areas for intervention.

“They’re also important to reveal and target areas of need,” hesaid. “Once an area of weakness has been identified, it can moreeasily be corrected through specifically tailored programs.”

School officials will begin working on those areas this year, hesaid.