Thursday, August 14, 2003

Schools improve in basic testing

Fourth Street shows huge jump in ratings

By William Croyle
Enquirer contributor

The Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills accounts for only 5 percent of Kentucky's Commonwealth Accountability Testing System scores, but it's the only part of CATS that provides schools with a national comparison.

The Kentucky Department of Education released scores from the basic skills test Wednesday, which showed that most Northern Kentucky schools had improved over 2002.

Third-, sixth- and ninth-grade students took the basic skills test last spring, which featured multiple-choice and true/false questions in reading, math and language arts. This was the sixth year for the standardized test.

Kentucky schools finished at or above the national average on all three grade levels in all three subjects in 2003.

"In a test like this, you usually won't see 10- or 15-point gains. It'll be more of a slow progress, and that's OK," said Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education.

But some local schools were exceptions.

Out of six Northern Kentucky counties (Boone, Campbell, Kenton, Gallatin, Grant and Pendleton), the third-graders from Fourth Street Elementary in Newport made the biggest improvement over 2002 scores.

The combined reading, math and language arts scores placed those students at the 51st percentile, meaning they did better than or equal to 51 percent of the schools in the nation that took the test.

That's a jump from the 34th percentile a year earlier.

Practice tests during the year gave the students an idea of what to expect.

"With assessments so important today, we want to make sure we're delivering instruction the way we should be," said Fourth Street Principal Jim Clinkenbeard, who sent thank-you letters to all of the students who took the test.

"I knew we made gains from the fall to the spring, but I didn't expect scores this high."

Arnett Elementary School in the Erlanger-Elsmere Independent School District went from the 60th percentile in 2002 to 76th this year.

"They didn't just go up by accident," said Arnett Principal David Palmore. "We gave simulated tests during the year and really keyed in on it."

In the Walton-Verona Independent School District, all three grades finished with percentiles in the upper 60s, but all three were down from 2002. The ninth-grade ranking dropped only a point, but that has raised a red flag at the school, one of the top CATS schools in the state each year.

"We don't want to see anything like that," said Principal Pam Sayler. "I got our scores in June and we've had about six meetings already looking for ways to improve."

In Boone County, the state's third-largest district, 12 of the 18 schools improved, and all but two were at the 60th percentile or higher. But they still are looking for ways to raise scores.

"We are looking question by question to determine exactly what the issue might be at each school," said Marjorie Bowers, assistant superintendent.

In the Covington Independent School District, the scores as a whole were flat compared to 2002, but still well below the national average. Superintendent Jack Moreland said the test is important, but not as important as another test the students have to take around the same time.

"It's pretty hard to serve two masters," said Moreland, referring to the basic skills test and the Kentucky Core Content Test, which is also administered in the spring and carries much more weight.

"We want to be good at everything, but we have to be patient. "

CATS scores are scheduled to be released sometime in October.

For all scores in the state, go to Web site.


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