Schools must show improving test scores
Eudora students' state assessment test scores were positive overall, but the No Child Left Behind Act makes that a mixed blessing. Because the act wants to see marked improvement each year -- in annual yearly progress -- schools that already perform well can reach a point of diminishing returns, said Eudora USD 491 Superintendent Marty Kobza.
For instance, in 10th grade math testing in 2002, Eudora High School had 23.5 percent of students in the lowest category, but this year just 12.8 percent of students were ranked "unsatisfactory." Similarly, The number of 10th-graders in the highest category (exemplary) increased from 3.5 percent in 2002 to 16.3 percent this year.
"The concern is that we need to have steady improvement," said Eudora High School Principal Dale Sample. "We've kind of been on a steady incline, but slowly."
Carolyn Warren, officer of academic affairs at West Elementary School, said schools were expected to raise the bar on state standardized tests every year until 2018. In Kansas, each new class of fourth- through 11th-graders is tested in the same subject each year (except for social studies and science, which are tested every other year). That means the tests don't measure the ability of one group of students as they progress through the system but rather allow districts to examine their curriculum in a particular subject for a particular grade.
In 10th grade math the district is OK until 2007 because enough students were in the proficient and above categories, Kobza said. However, he said districts that performed well came to a point of diminishing returns.
Eudora's seventh-graders have performed well in math the last few years, including reaching the state standard of excellence in 2002. Although falling short of the benchmark this year by two students in two categories, Eudora Middle School had more seventh-graders at proficient and above categories. But the NCLB Act demands improvement in these already-achieving areas, too.
"We're kind of hitting that point it's going to take a concentrated effort for us to do that," said Don Grosdidier, the middle school's principal.
That's why Grosdidier and other administrators are implementing programs to help students achieve and raise the bar on state standards. At the middle school, Grosdidier said that meant developing individual improvement plans for low-scoring students in math and boosting English scores by using cross-curriculum exposure for eighth-grade reading and having students spend concentrated times on reading during the day.
"If you're a poor reader, you're not going to do well in social studies either," Grosdidier said.
Fellow principals Dale Sample of Eudora High School and Rod Moyer of West Elementary also said it was useful to use the tests as a watermark for the curriculum by asking teachers how and when they covered the material.
"It doesn't make sense to go in and take a test when you've never seen the material," Moyer said.
Underexposure to material was one of the likely reasons Eudora's 11th-grade social studies scores dropped from the last time students were tested, in 2001. The percentage of students in upper categories dropped while the percentages in lower rankings increased.
Sample said 25 to 30 questions on the test covered geography and Kansas History, a subject only covered in seventh grade. Sample said the school now planned to incorporate a review of Kansas History in its other social studies courses.
Sample said curriculum changes in science could also have contributed to those scores. Although 10th-grade science testing saw some progress in the highest and lowest categories, fewer students ranked in 2003 ranked proficient and above than did in 2001. To get all freshmen in biology classes, Sample said the school dropped physical science from the curriculum, and some students didn't take science courses last academic year, both of which could have contributed to the test results.
At the middle school level, Grosdidier said he was hoping to see the payoffs for sixth-graders, now in a middle school environment, which means they have science and social studies every day in 45-minute increments.
Although students at Nottingham Elementary School aren't tested by the state, Principal Jim Lauer said reading and math testing of the students showed they performed well compared to national scores. Much of that had to do with the reading programs implemented at that level.
"The teachers bought into it; the kids bought into it," he said. "We have kids that come in who have no idea of the alphabet, so we build up from ground zero," Lauer said.
Moreover, what students learned at Nottingham would set their pace as they progressed to West, and then the middle and high schools.
"They can't have success through the years if they don't have success at our building," Lauer said.
Working toward results
The overall goals of the district -- and No Child Left Behind -- is to bring students out of the basic levels and into proficiency. That includes special education students, which is why many districts were rumbling about the new requirements, Kobza said. Because Eudora has less than 30 such students per building, it is exempt from that kind of scrutiny.
In addition to boosting students in the lower ranks, administrators said one of their goals was to encourage already-proficient students to move up the ranks by continually performing better. At the middle school, Grosdidier said that was accomplished by offering incentives for students to perform at high levels. The school had a party for the students in seventh-grade who reached the standard of excellence.
"Their focus isn't, 'I want to be proficient and above,'" Grosdidier said. "They think, 'I want to be the best I can be.'"
Sample said the high school anticipated taking the same outward emphasis on state testing by rewarding students who have performed well as an example to other students.
"They will be talked to about the importance of taking those things seriously," Sample said.
If the schools' systems were working the way they should, Kobza said the district could expect to see scores stay on a steady incline. And in spite of the complications and frustrations added by No Child Left Behind, Warren said the process had been beneficial.
"I think what it's done is brought different teachers together and foced them to get on the same page; to talk to each other," she said.