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School committees to look into test scores

by Merrie Leininger

The tests keep coming.

Douglas County schools are constantly preparing students to take tests and looking at the results of tests just taken.

Many school staffs have committees looking now at the results of the TerraNova test results.

TerraNova is a national student performance level test that Nevada students have been required to take for three years.

Students in the 4th, 8th and 10th grades took the test in October and Douglas County students continued to score significantly above the national and state averages. Tenth graders scored higher in all subjects than last year’s 10th graders did. The test is composed of reading, language, math and science.

Minden Elementary has shown the biggest drops, with the language scores declining from a 78 percent to a 51 percent. Reading scores dropped from 70 to 58 percent, math dropped from 73 to 54 percent and science dropped from 71 to 62 percent.

Janice Florey, coordinator of assessments, grants and projects, analyzes the scores for the district, and said the cause for the drop probably cannot be determined quickly.

“We need to see the B test administered again next year to see if it is a trend,” she said.

The test comes in two versions, and the state decides which version is used every year. The B test was used this last year, and Florey said across the board, a dip in language scores was found.

The language part of the test is multiple choice and includes sentence structure, editing skills and mechanics, such as punctuation and capitalization. Florey said the test is not as good an indication of students’ writing ability because they don’t actually write.

For example, the 4th grade writing assessments recently taken actually call for students to write on a topic of their choice, and Minden Elementary School received higher scores in all categories than the district average.

However, a small accountability committee has been formed to look into the possible causes for Minden’s lower TerraNova scores.

Minden teachers on the accountability committee have met three times since January.

Principal Klaire Pirtle said the teachers were very surprised when they first saw the scores, but emphasized the scores can’t be taken too seriously because it is not an accurate picture of a child’s achievement.

“We are most concerned that each child is achieving at his or her level,” she said.

Achievement Level Testing will be given to Douglas County students in the 3rd through 6th grades in the next couple of weeks and students must first take locator tests to match them with the right difficulty level. Students new to the district will immediately take the locator test to have a benchmark to measure the students’ progress.

This test will clearly show how students are doing, because they will not be taking a test that is over their heads or below their ability, said Minden 1st and 2nd grade teacher, Judy Hatch.

“It will show where each student is continuously learning and continuously growing,” said Minden 4th grade teacher Liz Jessup.

The scores comparing this year to last year don’t tell teachers anything about individual students, she said.

“It’s an entirely different group of kids who took the test last year,” Jessup said.

n Preparation. The committee is looking at doing more test preparation with the students and giving them more practice at taking standardized tests like the TerraNova.

Hatch said she already includes test-taking strategies in her existing curriculum.

“We don’t have that kind of time to make a separate class out of it. I just use normal assessments of what I’m already teaching,” she said.

While the teachers’ first goal is to teach the district-set competencies, they have a TerraNova teacher’s manual and are aware of what the students need to know for the tests.

The teachers said they focus on each student’s achievement toward the competencies, and when students fall behind, they get individualized attention in the form of adult mentors, peer tutoring and anything else that will give them extra practice.

Counselor Tracey Wagner said anytime a student receives intervention of any kind, the parents are notified and they are also given instruction on how they can help their child.

Whatever the next year’s TerraNova scores show, Minden special education teacher Lynn Sahlin, who has kindergarten-6th grade students, said they will continue to do their best for each child.

“The end of this year we will develop an action research project base on what we’ve learned and it will be ongoing. We always want to improve,” she said.

n Improvements. High school students showed the greatest improvement in language, moving from 54 percent to 62 percent.

Douglas High School Vice Principal Susan Baldwin said all the teachers were trained in reading strategies and students were taught test-taking strategies.

“We really set a tone about how important tests are for placement of students for the next two years and promoted responsibly on part of the students to take the testing very seriously,” Baldwin said.