Douglas County students are starting the school year Monday on a positive note.
Despite tougher state standards implemented in the last few years, students in the Douglas County School District were overall more proficient in core subjects this spring than they were a year before, according to test results released by the district last week.
In reading, most elementary and middle schools showed improvement on the spring Criterion-Referenced Test. Of 2,905 students who took the reading CRT, 74 percent demonstrated proficiency - up from 70.9 percent in 2011. The only schools that saw a drop in reading proficiency, albeit minimal drops, were Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School, down from 64.2 percent to 63.4 percent, and Minden Elementary School, down from 75.5 percent to 74.2 percent.
In math, every elementary and middle school in the district showed improvement on the spring CRT compared to the year before. Of 2,903 students who took the math CRT, 80.2 percent demonstrated proficiency - up from 73 percent in 2011 and from 72.9 percent in 2010.
Though clearly a positive trend, math results still reflect transitional cut scores, or passing scores, that are different in each grade level. The temporary benchmarks were intended to smooth transition of new math standards. Next spring, however, students will test against the permanent passing score of 300, as they do now for reading and science.
District Director of Grants and Assessments Brian Frazier demonstrated how 2012 math CRT results would stack up against the final standard.
In the sixth-grade, only 61.2 percent of students would have been proficient at the new level of rigor versus 84.9 percent with the transitional cut-scores. In the seventh-grade, only 66 percent would have been proficient compared to 81.8 percent. In the eighth-grade, only 50.7 percent would have been proficient versus 78.5 percent.
A similar scenario applies to the 10th-grade math High School Proficiency Exam.
Of 473 students who took the test in the spring, 74.2 percent demonstrated proficiency, up respectively from 71.6 percent in 2011, and 72.8 percent in 2010.
Compared to next year's higher standard, though, 10th-grade proficiency in math would fall dramatically to 41.2 percent.
The good news, Frazier said, is that the trends are pointing in the right direction. Proficiency is incrementally increasing under Common Core State Standards.
"It's building that capacity over time," he said. "Am I worried? No. The bar has been raised, and we are improving. Our teachers are truly on board."
In other core areas, 10th-graders overall showed improvement in 2012 without transitional cut scores.
In reading, 72.4 percent of 464 students met requirements on the spring High School Proficiency Exam, versus just 64.7 percent the year before.
In science, proficiency jumped from 74.8 percent in 2011 to 76.5 percent this spring, both up from 69.7 percent in 2010.
In writing, which is assessed among juniors in the fall, proficiency increased from 76.5 percent in 2010 to 82.8 percent in 2011.
"Even with the change in standards, our students are doing really well," Frazier said.