Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

November 30, 2011

District extends testing to improve performance

By LISA SIMPSON STRANGE
Glasgow Daily Times

EDMONTON — One area school district is working to improve student career and college readiness results by increasing the number of opportunities students have to take certain tests that measure their progress toward those readiness benchmarks.

Metcalfe County students in grades six through 10 are being given more than one chance to take the EXPLORE and PLAN tests, which are precursor exams for the ACT, a test required by the state for all high school juniors.

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) requires that eighth-graders in all the state’s public schools take the EXPLORE exam and all 10th-graders take the PLAN exam, but Metcalfe County administrators have decided to expand the scope of those students taking the tests to include sixth- and seventh-graders for EXPLORE and ninth-graders for PLAN.

Bennie Stephens, Metcalfe County Schools Director of Assessments and Accountability for Learning, presented the results of those expanded testing efforts to superintendent Patricia Hurt and school board members during a meeting last week.

Stephens first thanked Hurt and members of the board for allowing the students to have this extra opportunity by administering the tests in “non-mandated grades.”

“All that is leading up to the most important ACT test, which is administered to all juniors. So what we’re trying to do is prepare students for that big ACT test. As you know, it’s an important test that gives our students scholarship opportunities – many opportunities that are postsecondary,” he said.

According to Stephens, the best way to make comparisons on the tests is have the same students take the test multiple times over more than one year allows the district to do that now.

By following the test results of sixth-graders going to seventh grade and seventh-graders going to eighth grade, the following pattern was revealed: students in seventh grade in the 2011-12 school year scored higher in all subjects – English, math, reading, science and the composite score – anywhere from 1 to 2.1 points from when they took the EXPLORE test as sixth-graders.

Stephens reminded the board that this was a test designed to be given to eighth-grade students.

“Twelve students in the sixth grade met (state) benchmarks in all four areas and 21 met the composite benchmark,” he said.

Forty-six percent of sixth-grade center students met state benchmarks, according to Stephens.

Eighth-graders also showed improved scores across the board between 0.7 and 1.5 points above their seventh-grade results.

Board member Lakettia O’Leary asked Stephens how many of this year’s eighth-graders met benchmarks on EXPLORE.

Out of 113 in the eighth grade, 71 met the English (13) benchmark, 40 met the math (17) benchmark, 38 met the reading (15) benchmark, 13 met the science (20) benchmark and 48 met the composite (16.25) benchmark. The highest score possible on the EXPLORE test is 25.

Forty-two percent of eighth-grade students made the composite benchmark compared to 58 percent of seventh-graders and 46 percent of sixth-graders, according to Stephens.

When looking at eighth-grade student performance year-to-year during the last seven years, there is an overall pattern of increasing and decreasing scores from one year to the next. That is one reason district leaders wanted to increase the amount of data through additional testing.

Students, teachers and staff can look at EXPLORE results along with the test questions and analyze why they were wrong.

“(Students) can go to the test booklet and see what they missed,” Stephens said.

Plans are being formulated for all sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students based on what their EXPLORE scores were and how to improve them.

At the high school level, PLAN scores for ninth- and 10th-graders showed that while students’ overall results from both grades failed to meet a high percentage of PLAN or ACT benchmarks, the same students did improve from one year to the next between 1 and 1.6 points across the board.

PLAN benchmarks are English, 15; math, 19; reading, 17; and science 21. ACT benchmarks are English composition, 18; social studies (reading), 21; college algebra (math) 22; and biology (science), 24. The highest score possible on either test is 32.

Out of 121 students in the 10th grade, 66 met benchmarks in English; 31 in math; 49 in reading; and 25 in science (above the national average), according to Stephens. Forty-three students met the composite benchmark, or 36 percent.

In ninth grade, 56 students in English; 43 in math; 24 in reading; 18 in science; and 24 in composite score made benchmark or 20 percent of the class.

“Overall, we went up in everything from one year to the next, but you can see as we’re trying to improve each and every year we still have a lot to do to insure our students are college and career ready by the time they graduate from high school,” said Stephens. “Hopefully, what we’re doing prior to the ACT is going to pay dividends to our students as they take the ACT their junior year.”

Hurt told board members that school principals would be presenting their school improvement plans during the December meeting and she expected to see strategies from the sixth-grade center, middle and high schools on how to continue to improve these results.

“I would agree with (Stephen’s) summary wholeheartedly in that while we are continuing to improve we still have work to do,” she said.