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Test numbers going up in Belgrade schools

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Posted: Friday, June 1, 2012 12:01 pm

How many prime numbers are greater than 30 and less than 50?  Five is the answer.

That was a question high schoolers struggled with recently on the state’s criterion referenced-test.

Although scores across the board went up, the tests revealed Belgrade students are still struggling in mathematics. For the past four years, high school students who took the test failed to meet appropriate standards, Belgrade Curriculum Director Gary Kidd said.   

The CRT tests are meant to measure a student’s progress in math and reading by ranking them as advanced, proficient, nearing proficient or novice. The tests are a measuring stick for the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

This year Belgrade Schools Curriculum Director Gary Kidd said he was impressed with the district’s results, despite the ongoing struggle in math.

“Looking at the trends, we’ve got some lines that are going up,” Kidd said. “Not in every grade, but in most. I’m thrilled with the direction we’re going over time.”  

Superintendent Lubanksy said that although the numbers at this point are raw and may change before AYP determinations come out this July, they look good.

Students in grades three through eight and high school sophomores are given the multiple-choice tests. To meet AYP standards, schools had to have an 83 percent proficiency rate in reading and a 68 percent in reading.

According to preliminary numbers, every grade except for seventh made its achievement target in reading. Seventh graders tested 11 percentage points short of the target. In math, seventh graders struggled, too. They missed the benchmark by 10 percent. Last year’s crop of seventh graders made both requirements. But the sixth-graders from last year, this year’s seventh graders, were seven points short of the requirement.

“We can’t just look at snapshots, we have to look at the whole movie,” Kidd said. “We have to look for trends.”

Sophomores were the only other group that didn’t meet standards, falling just one point short of the 68 percent proficiency requirement. Kidd said that number may rise or fall in July when the Montana Office of Public Instruction releases its official AYP numbers. Sophomores last year just made the reading cutoff with an 83 percent proficiency rate, while their math scores sat at 60 percent, eight points shy of the requirement.

“Math is lower than English, it always is,” Kidd said. “Let’s figure out what’s working and keep doing it.”

Kidd said the strength of CRT testing is being able to look at the breakdown of each question and see how many students struggled with it. Prime numbers, for example, were especially tough for students this year. So it’s Kidd’s job to discuss the CRT results with teachers and discuss strategies to improve problems areas.

What the numbers mean

Being proficient, or meeting Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks set by the state, shows how well students are learning the material they’re supposed to, at least according to NCLB standards. The common complaint about AYP is that schools are graded on a pass/fail system in 39 different areas. If a sub-group, like students enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program, does not meet AYP standards, the school fails its evaluation. So schools that normally demonstrate overall excellence, can receive failing marks based on a select few.  

In the beginning when NCLB was implemented, the State Education Agency outlined a starting point from which school had to steadily improve. The 83 percent proficiency rate in reading and 68 percent in math Belgrade is required to achieve this year is based on the initial state assessment almost ten years ago.  

Schools that do not meet AYP standards must write an improvement plan that lays out how they school will raise low test numbers. The school must also offer parents the opportunity to send their child to a higher-performing school. Private schools do not have to meet AYP standards.

When the No Child Left Behind Act was implemented in 2001 under the George W. Bush administration, it required states to create a timeline for achieving proficiency standards in math and reading. Schools nationwide were supposed to meet state standards within twelve years of the 2001-2002 school year.

But by the time states are to meet those requirements, most will have transitioned to the Common Core Curriculum. Under the new curriculum, states will not adhere to CRT tests at all, but rather a new set of tests, administered on the computer, specific to the new common core standards.  Common Core monitors students’ progress more frequently throughout the year to catch struggling students quicker.

“The new tests will be much more objective,” Kidd said. “ They will be tailored to where you are, rather than a static test.”

Many opponents of NCLB Act said it restricted what teachers could do in their classroom and made them teach to match what would be on the CRT tests.

The Common Core will be different, State Superintendent Denise Juneau said.

“I got so excited about the Common Core because it is such a shift from No Child Left Behind, which dictated exactly what teachers could do,” she said. “The (Common Core) standards are all the same. The way students learn that content does not have to be in the same way.

Students in the Belgrade school district with take CRT test for two more years until the Common Core is fully integrated into the district in 2014-2015.

© 2015 The Belgrade News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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