Subject tests chart students’ progress

Published 5:00 am Monday, September 29, 2008

A planned shift in educational emphasis in the Lincoln CountySchool District has resulted in mixed scores from last year’sissuance of the Subject Area Testing Program and MississippiCurriculum Test, Second Edition tests.

While the district tallied favorable scores on the 2007/2008MCT2 tests, which for the first time was issued to students ingrades three through eight, the district’s decision to issue theSATP tests – which a student must pass in order to graduate – toevery eligible student in grades nine through 12 resulted in lower- but expected – scores.

An average of 79 percent of the district’s students talliedpassing grades in the SATP’s four subjects, which included AlgebraI, U.S. History, Biology I and English II. A favorable 93.9 percentrecorded passing grades in U.S. History, but only 59.4 percentmanaged to record passing scores on the Algebra I portion of thetest.

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Eighty-one percent of students who took the algebra portion ofthe test recorded “basic” scores, while only 42 percent were listedas “proficient.”

Superintendent Terry Brister said the district decided to”one-up” the No Child Left Behind’s policy of reaching grade-levelproficiency by 2014 by issuing the SATP tests according tostudents’ grade level. In the past, the district issued the testbased on students’ instructional levels.

The district’s new testing policy resulted in overall moredifficult testing and a higher number of students taking the test,which – basically by default – caused the scores to slip.

“The low SATP scores are the first growing pains,” Brister said.”The state upped the ante on testing – if they were going to makethose steps, then we’re going to make those steps. We tested morestudents than schools in all the surrounding counties. We have totest everyone sooner or later.”

Brister said the decision to increase the number of studentstested on the SATP tests was made in April.

He said the first-edition low test scores reflect the district’sadjustment to the new policy of an aggressive approach toscheduling. The central office worked closely with teachers andadministrators to place students in age/grade appropriate classes,he said.

“If they [students] were supposed to or needed to be tested, weenrolled them in the classes and tested them,” Brister said.

Brister said the students who failed the SATP last weekcompleted the first round of retests, with two more chances to passthe graduation-necessary examinations in December and again in thenext semester. He said each school was offering “intense”remediation and tutoring to prepare students for the retakes, andthat most students who retake the tests will pass.

Ninth-grades who failed the test will have plenty ofopportunities over the next three years to pass, he said.

While the district’s grade-level testing transition lowered SATPscores, another new district focus regarding the younger gradesresulted in favorable MCT2 scores.

An average of 34.6 percent of students in grades three througheight tallied basic scores on the language arts portion of theMCT2, almost 45 percent scored proficient and 9.9 percent werelisted as advanced for a total of 89.5 percent passing.

On the mathematics portion of the test, 25.4 percent scoredbasic, 45.6 percent scored proficient and 11 percent were advancedfor a total of 82 percent passing.

Brister said the good scores on the MCT2 are the result of thedistrict placing more emphasis on the test.

“We came to that conclusion in order to get to the point thatwhen students reach secondary levels, we don’t have to worry aboutwho passes,” he said. “We’re trying to pour more concrete on gradesthree through eight so we have a stable foundation when they get togrades nine through 12. If you do your job in three through eight,then nine through 12 will take care of itself.”

District Director of Curriculum Richelle Ratcliff said thedistrict has pushed its teachers to spare no effort in preparingthe younger students for success on the MCT tests. Students ingrades three through eight have seen a flurry of practice tests,preparation booklets and information on state and federalrequirements of the test.

Ratcliff said the district has taken a long look at the gaps inits curriculum and has targeted weaker areas, particularlymathematics. The extra emphasis is not only for the sake of the MCTtests, she said, but also to advance the district’s level ofinstruction in high school curricula.

“If we build a stronger student from the ground up, they’reprepared and we’ll be able to challenge them with more in-depthsubjects,” she said.

In overview of all the testing results, Brister summed up thedistrict’s performance with his often-repeated opinion onimprovement.

“We’re pleased with the hard work, but we’re determined to getbetter,” he said. “Our community is beginning to buy in – tounderstand that there’s more to testing now than there was fiveyears ago. They’re pushing the kids at home to get better.”