Re­sults im­prove on tests

More state pupils at ‘ready’ lev­els

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - CYN­THIA HOW­ELL

Arkansas’ third- through 10th-graders did bet­ter on the state-re­quired ACT As­pire tests this past spring than stu­dents did in 2016, Arkansas De­part­ment of Education lead­ers said Mon­day.

More than 287,500 stu­dents in the Nat­u­ral State took the on­line tests in English, math, sci­ence, read­ing and writ­ing in the state’s sec­ond year for the test­ing pro­gram de­vel­oped by the same com­pany that pro­duces the ACT col­lege-en­trance exam.

Re­sults im­proved in ev­ery sub­ject and in ev­ery grade ex­cept sixth- grade sci­ence, fifth-grade English and third-grade writ­ing.

The state Education De­part­ment staff high­lighted in par­tic­u­lar im­prove­ments in sixth- and eighth-grade math and dou­ble- digit per­cent­age-point gains in fourth- through eighth­grade writ­ing.

Arkansas Education Com­mis­sioner Johnny Key called the over­all higher achieve­ment “a pos­i­tive re­flec­tion of the work of our ded­i­cated ed­u­ca­tors.”

“The in­crease in Arkansas’ scores can be at­trib­uted to the full im­ple­men­ta­tion of the state’s rig­or­ous education stan­dards, high-qual­ity pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment, and in­no­va­tive and ev­i­dence- based teach­ing prac­tices in the class­room that en­cour­age stu­dent en­gage­ment and learn­ing,” said Key, who also noted

that there re­mains room for more im­prove­ment.

Gov. Asa Hutchin­son, who in 2015 di­rected a change in the state’s stu­dent test­ing pro­gram, is­sued a state­ment Mon­day con­grat­u­lat­ing stu­dents, teach­ers and the Education De­part­ment “for the no­table im­prove­ment on the 2016-2017 ACT As­pire.”

“While we want to see con­tin­ued im­prove­ments in the fu­ture, the in­creased scores in math and writ­ing bode well for our state in our ef­forts to at­tract more in­dus­try with a strong work­force,” Hutchin­son said. “In ad­di­tion, these ad­vances fur­ther un­der­score the hard work our teach­ers put forth ev­ery day and in­di­cates that our stu­dents are re­spond­ing well to the de­part­ment’s new vi­sion to pro­vide a stu­dent-fo­cused education.”

The As­pire re­sults, which are to be pre­sented to the Arkansas Board of Education at its meet­ing Fri­day, will be used by schools and dis­tricts to de­velop aca­demic im­prove­ment plans for stu­dents who did not achieve at the de­sired “ready” or bet­ter lev­els on any of the tests.

Achieve­ment at the “ready” level in­di­cates that stu­dents are on track to be pre­pared for col­lege and/or ca­reers when they take the ACT in 11th or 12th grades. Other cat­e­gories of per­for­mance on the tests are “ex­ceed­ing,” “needs sup­port” and “close to ready.”

The state is us­ing the As­pire test­ing pro­gram to com­ply with the fed­eral Ev­ery Child Suc­ceeds Act that calls for states to hold schools and dis­tricts ac­count­able for stu­dent learn­ing — in­clud­ing sub­groups of stu­dents iden­ti­fied by their race or eth­nic­ity, fam­ily poverty, learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties and English lan­guage speak­ing skills.

The As­pire re­sults re­leased Mon­day are con­sid­ered pre­lim­i­nary un­til data are re­viewed and cor­rected. Once the re­sults are fi­nal­ized, the state will use them as the ba­sis for the Arkansas School Recog­ni­tion Pro­gram and to de­ter­mine whether schools that were ear­lier clas­si­fied as pri­or­ity schools, for scor­ing among the low­est 5 per­cent of cam­puses, can be re­moved from that clas­si­fi­ca­tion.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the As­pire re­sults for the state’s more than 250 tra­di­tional and char­ter schools, as well as dis­tricts and char­ter sys­tems, will be posted on the state’s an­nual School Per­for­mance Re­port Card.

The data re­leased Mon­day show that stu­dents did the best this year on the English tests. The per­cent­age of stu­dents scor­ing at ready or bet­ter lev­els in English ranged from 58.5 per­cent in the ninth grade to 78.6 per­cent in the sev­enth grade.

The na­tional As­pire re­sults in English ranged from 61 per­cent ready at the ninth­grade level to 75 per­cent at the sev­enth-grade level.

Stu­dents made the great­est im­prove­ments in 2017 com­pared with 2016 on the writ­ing tests, show­ing gains of as many as 15, 19 and al­most 22 per­cent­age points in some grades over re­sults from the pre­vi­ous year.

The per­cent­ages of stu­dents scor­ing at ready lev­els ranged from 19.17 per­cent in third grade to 59.29 per­cent in sixth grade. The sixth-grade re­sult was 15.2 per­cent­age points higher than the per­cent­age of sixth- grade test tak­ers scor­ing at the ready level in 2016.

State Education De­part­ment staff at­trib­uted the gains in writ­ing scores to a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors, in­clud­ing an ex­ten­sion of time pro­vided to stu­dents to com­plete the writ­ing test, as well as teacher train­ing, class­room in­struc­tion fo­cused on writ­ing, and a grow­ing fa­mil­iar­ity with the on­line test­ing for­mat.

Na­tion­ally, the writ­ing per­cent­ages ranged from 17 per­cent ready in third grade to 52 per­cent in 10th grade level.

In math, the per­cent­ages of Arkansas stu­dents scor­ing at ready or bet­ter lev­els ranged from 24.72 per­cent in the 10th grade to 62.05 per­cent in the sixth grade. Na­tion­ally, the per­cent­ages ranged from a low of 32 per­cent in the 10th grade to a high of 60 per­cent ready in the third grade.

In sci­ence, the per­cent­age of Arkansas stu­dents scor­ing at ready lev­els ranged from 32.14 per­cent in the ninth grade to 48.95 per­cent in the sixth grade. That com­pares na­tion­ally to a range of 32 per­cent ready in the ninth grade to 47 per­cent in the sixth grade.

In con­trast to the higher achieve­ment lev­els in English in Arkansas, the read­ing per­cent­ages are lower, rang­ing from 36.38 per­cent ready in the 10th grade to 48.99 per­cent in the eighth grade. Na­tion­ally, the read­ing score per­cent­ages ranged from 38 per­cent in third and 10th grades to a high of 50 per­cent in eighth grade.

Gary Rit­ter, a Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville pro­fes­sor of education and public pol­icy and the founder of the Of­fice for Education Pol­icy at that cam­pus, said Mon­day that, be­cause this is only the sec­ond year for the use of the As­pire test, there are lim­ited ar­eas for com­par­i­son.

“It looks like slight in­creases at nearly ev­ery level,” Rit­ter said of the state re­sults. “The over­all data right now sug­gests that as a state, it’s roughly what you would ex­pect with a new exam. We are learn­ing it. The fact that the writ­ing had big­ger jumps, there was an ex­pla­na­tion — they did ex­tend the time.”

Rit­ter also said that rule-mak­ing for writ­ing and writ­ing prac­tice for the test were likely em­pha­sized in class­room teach­ing.

While the state doesn’t have a good com­par­i­son group, Rit­ter said, the newly re­leased re­sults are still use­ful, par­tic­u­larly to school dis­tricts that can com­pare them­selves to sur­round­ing dis­tricts or dis­tricts that have sim­i­lar de­mo­graph­ics.

“There is lots of good in­for­ma­tion to be pulled from here, but at the state level it’s not a lot,” he said. “Pay­ing at­ten­tion school by school seems like a use­ful thing.”

Yo­laun­dra Wil­liams, di­rec­tor of spe­cial pro­grams for the Pu­laski County Spe­cial School Dis­trict, was pleased with the re­sults in that school sys­tem.

“We had gains in all ar­eas ex­cept two in the el­e­men­tary grades, and those were slight drops,” Wil­liams said. “I thought it was re­ally good con­sid­er­ing this was the sec­ond year of the test in the dis­trict and the state.

“Last year, we were deal­ing with a new for­mat, deal­ing with a new tech­nol­ogy and test­ing on­line. This year, I think stu­dents did an ex­cel­lent job and teach­ers re­ally amped up in­struc­tion. I do be­lieve next year, with us be­ing more fa­mil­iar with the for­mat and stu­dents be­ing more com­fort­able with the on­line plat­form, that achieve­ment will con­tinue to in­crease,” Wil­liams said.

In the Pu­laski County Spe­cial dis­trict, the com­bined English, read­ing and writ­ing scores ranged from a low of 31.9 per­cent ready in the ninth grade to 52.8 per­cent in the fifth grade. Com­bin­ing math and sci­ence, the stu­dent per­for­mance ranged from 12.7 per­cent of ninth-graders scor­ing at ready lev­els to 42.3 per­cent in the fourth grade. In­di­vid­ual schools scored much higher or much lower.

In the Lit­tle Rock School Dis­trict, the state’s largest dis­trict, the per­cent­age of stu­dents scor­ing at ready or bet­ter lev­els ranged from 34.2 per­cent of third-graders in English/ lan­guage arts to 41.4 per­cent in fifth grade. In math and sci­ence, the re­sults ranged from 17.3 per­cent ready or bet­ter in 10th grade to 34.1 per­cent ready in fourth grade. Again, in­di­vid­ual schools had much higher per­cent­ages or much lower.

At eSTEM Public Char­ter Schools, one of the largest char­ter school sys­tems in Pu­laski County, the per­cent­ages of stu­dents scor­ing at ready lev­els in English/ lan­guage arts ranged from 51.6 per­cent in fourth grade to 75.4 per­cent in eighth grade. In math and sci­ence, the per­cent­age of stu­dents achiev­ing at ready lev­els ranged from 34.4 per­cent in the ninth grade to 62.06 in the fourth grade.

Be­fore the As­pire test, the state ad­min­is­tered in the 2014-15 school year the Part­ner­ship for the As­sess­ment of Readi­ness for Col­lege and Ca­reer, or PARCC, tests. One of the com­plaints about the PARCC test was the amount of time it re­quired. The As­pire test av­er­ages 4½ hours while the PARCC re­quired 12 hours over a pe­riod of days.

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