By Mike Scott
Last week’s edition of The Media showed Clark County High School ranking lowest among five northeast Missouri schools, according to the 2013 School Annual Performance Report issued by DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education). In fact, the school district itself has used same information internally, telling teachers that the only two area schools scoring lower were Hannibal and Milan.
Editor’s Note: While that bottom-line analysis is correct, it does not tell the whole story, and the Language Arts, Math and Science comparisons made between the schools was not an accurate “apples to apples” comparison.
“These scores are not a 100% indication of student performance,” explained CCR-1 Superintendent Dr. Ritchie Kracht.
The scores reported were percentages of total points awarded based a complex matrix called the MAP Performance Index, which combines test scores with other scoring measures, including status, progress and growth, and three-year average scores.
Additional points are also awarded for subgroup achievement, including but not limited to race, students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, and special education students.
Another source of extra points is the number of students taking the ACT or SAT, Compass, Advanced Placement, Technical Skills Assessment or Armed Forces Qualifications Test, and how well they performed on those tests.
“We don’t give every kid every test, such as the Armed Forces test,” said Kracht. “Because we don’t want to waste their time. We lost points because we didn’t play the game.”
Boiled down, the scores reflect many factors beyond actual test scores, and schools starting with lower scores but showing more improvement may achieve a higher score than a higher-scoring school that did not improve as much.
For example, Clark County High School’s Language Arts earned 9 out of 16 possible points, making its percentage 56.3%, which was what was reported as “Advanced or Proficient” in last week’s paper. The actual percentage of proficient or advanced students in Language Arts at CCR-1 High School is 59.6%.
However, in Math, only 47.4% tested at the Proficient or Advanced levels.
In Social Studies, 45.0% tested at the Proficient or Advanced levels.
A very bright spot is Science, where 91.9% of the students placed at the Proficient or Advanced levels.
A chart comparing the percentage of students scoring proficient or advance, along with the MPI score, can be seen below. It also shows the data for each building in the CCR-1 District.
Further complicating comparisons is the fact that the test gets harder each year, and that Missouri’s test is more difficult than many surrounding states’ tests.
All that explanation aside, the fact remains that Clark County’s test scores have room for improvement.
“Obviously, we’re not where we want to be,” said Kracht.
At Wednesday’s school board meeting, board members and administrators discussed how the district would improve scores.
Teachers have been and will continue to use professional development days to review the testing data available to them, which includes three years of how each class performed, and shows where classes’ strengths and weaknesses are. Teachers can use that information to address areas of concern.
At these meetings, they will be working in vertical teams. For example, math teachers at all levels meet to see what areas need additional instruction.
“We’re working to fill in the gaps,’ Kracht said.
At Wednesday’s board meeting, CCR-1 High School Principal Jason Harper told board members that the high school’s science scores placed in top ten percent in the state.
Math, Language Arts, and Social studies need improvement, and to address those issues, many math and reading concepts are being ”pushed down” to lower grades. For example, concepts previously taught in Trigonometry will now be taught in Algebra I, and Algebra I is now available to the top eighth grade students, to allow them to have more higher level math classes.
In Language Arts, more complex readings and greater vocabulary skills are also being introduced in lower grades. The thought is that if students have a greater vocabulary and understanding of what they read, they score better on standardized tests. Reading and writing across the curriculum are being stressed.
In Social Studies, they have discovered that the school scored well in government questions, but found gaps in the history instruction. Teams of teachers and administrators have met to eliminate those gaps, and Harper expects scores to improve.
In the College and Career Readiness area, the high school missed several available points.
One area relates to whether vocational students have entered work activities or college related to their vocational experience in high school. A discussion with the the DESE area supervisor found that the district was actually to stringent in its reporting, and adjustment can be made for next year.
Testing was another area where the district lost points. Starting last year, all Juniors took the ASVAB (Armed Forces) test, and the school will be giving the Compass test to all seniors. Those who struggle with it will be tested again to try to improve their score.
Students who will attend two-year colleges will be encourage to take the Compass rather than the ACT because it is appropriate for two-year schools. The result should be fewer students taking the ACT, and therefore, high ACT average scores.
Teachers are focusing on formative assessments to help them shape their teaching, as well as teaching for the entire class period, emphasizing reading, writing and vocabulary skills.
“One problem is our focus on extracurriculars,” Harper told the board. “When softball, football and band are more important, we’ve got things backwards. We need to focus on academics and get things changed.”
One major success Harper noted was the increase in students taking upper level courses.
“We now have double the number in upper level classes than we did last year,” he said.
“The days of just sliding by are past. You’re just going to hurt yourself,” he added.
As noted, several concepts have been “pushed down” to lower grades. The Clark County Middle School is addressing those expectations.
In his report to the board, Middle School Principal Jason Church said:
Moving forward, we are taking a combination of steps to not only promote increased achievement on MAP tests, but to also help prepare students to be successful in HS and post-graduation. In the past few years, greater emphasis has been placed on activities that allow students to work collaboratively applying their knowledge in projects and presentations. Although, this has been extremely beneficial for our students, it has created a a gap in the amount of time that students spend reading and developing reading comprehension skills. The thought process for us going forward is that stronger readers will be better students in all subjects. Additionally even though state mandated Grade Level Expectations in English Language Arts for learning number in excess of 170, item research analysis indicates that over the last three years over 60% of MAP test questions in English Language Arts are derived from 3 GLEs. All 3 of those GLES, when deciphered to their most crucial elements, center on the ability to read non-fiction text and draw inferences from those readings. Additionally, the reintroduction of an extended writing portion for 7th grade testing focuses on a style of writing that requires students to recall and restate evidence from the test when supporting their beliefs. Increasing reading opportunities and improving reading fluency and comprehension should not only allow students at Clark County Middle school to score better on MAP assessments, but also prepare to students to be more accomplished learners in all subjects moving forward.
Below is a list of instructional changes to be made in ELA instruction as we proceed forward this year and in the future:
1. The introduction of one class period each week being devoted to students reading outside reading books in both Literature and Grammar/Composition classes.
2. Students will utilize Reading Plus software for a minimum of 75 minutes/week. Reading Plus is a diagnostic computer application that determines a student's initial reading level and develops individualized readings that help improve student reading comprehension and fluency.
3. ELA teachers will be emphasizing non-fiction reading selections during reading class. Teachers have spent considerable time researching exciting new selections for students and the new books arrived last week.
- Increased emphasis on non-fiction reading and comprehension skills in Science, Health, and Social Studies courses. One day a week in each of these courses, students will work on reading current articles and performing comprehension and writing activities.
- We will be adopting the HS Academic Word list and promoting them across the curriculum in a systematic method. Many students are unable to perform well on standardized tests due to inability to understand what the questions requires of them. Words like contrast, delineate, infer, etc. will be emphasized and practiced throughout the building.
6. A greater emphasis on expository writing and less emphasis on creative writing assignments. Students will focus on communicating factual evidence throughout their writing.
When examining Math scores, the areas of improvement appear to be a little less in-depth than in ELA. While investigating trends over the last couple of years, we have determined that instructional gaps have occurred because we have endeavored to emphasize pre-algebra and algebra skills to more and more students each year. As we strive to help prepare students for more rigorous graduation standards, we have spent less time on some of the more traditional math skills that tend to be featured on the MAP test. Identifying those areas that have been de-emphasized and renewing instructional efforts should help promote test score growth as we proceed forward in adopting Core Standards. All district math teachers will be working together to develop and implement these new standards to insure that Clark County R-1 students receive a first rate education.