By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The first round of test scores from the 2003-2004 school year are out, and they show that Havre students are testing well in math, but lagging far behind the rest of the state in reading.
The Montana Office of Public Instruction released test scores from the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, given to all Montana fourth- and eighth- graders, as well as the Iowa Tests of Educational Development, given to all Montana eleventh- graders. The tests cover five categories: science, math, social studies, language arts and reading.
State scores were above those of the nation, OPI reported.
But that's a misleading statement, Havre Public Schools assistant superintendent Dennis Parman said. The test compared test takers to a pool of 250,000 students whose scores represent a norm, not a national average.
"Montana's scores are always above the norm," Parman said.
Havre scores are also above that mark, but they fall below the state average in almost all categories.
The state points to one statistic in particular: the percentage of students in the proficient and advanced levels, who are at or above grade level in a subject.
"We are very pleased with the math (scores) and not so pleased with the reading (scores) for eighth-graders and high school students," Parman said.
The eighth-graders scored lowest among Havre grade levels in the reading category. Their national percentile rank was 51, just barely putting them over the national norm, with only 64 percent in the proficient and advanced levels. The state average was 73 percent proficient and advanced. High school students had a higher percentile, but the same percentage of students were at the proficient and advanced levels. The state average was 79 percent.
The fourth grade tested well in reading, with 77 percent in the proficient and advanced levels, compared with the state's average of 78 and putting them well above the national norm.
Fourth-graders were far above the state in math skills, with 88 percent performing at the proficient and advanced levels, including 18 percent attaining the advanced level. The scores of Havre eighth-graders and eleventh-graders were below but near the state average, and well above the national norm.
Parman will be focusing on the math and reading scores from the test in anticipation of the Measured Progress Test results, which he expects to receive late this month. The results of the Measured Progress Test determine whether or not Havre schools are in compliance with No Child Left Behind, President's Bush sweeping education initiative. Because last spring was the first time that test was administered, Tuesday's test results are not going to help Parman predict how Havre did on the Measured Progress Test, he said.
The science, social studies and language arts scores followed the average state scores pretty closely. The eighth-graders scored lower than the national norm in language arts and at the norm in social studies. High school scores were above the norm in all categories.
There are several problems in making some of the comparisons the scores invite, Parman said. The Iowa tests have been administered for four years, and so it's easy to want to compare one group of fourth-graders with the previous years' fourth-graders, he said, but there is so much variety among those groups of children, and the numbers are relatively small, so the comparison doesn't work.
"It's hard to look at a different group of kids and say there is a trend," he added.
What Parman wants to see is a scale score. An example of a scale score is an IQ score. These scores are not referenced to other test takers and so they show improvement, rather than comparison.
"We want to look at last year's eighth-graders who were here as fourth- graders," Parman said. In making that comparison, a scale score, not a score referenced to a norm group, will be the one to look at, he said.
Parman has one way of looking at the Iowa scores that can help student learning. Though, at first glance, people look at the percentage of students in the highest categories, it's the percentage of students in the nearly proficient category that is most important, he said.
"They're knocking at the door," Parman said. By finding out who those students are, and concentrating a lot of effort on helping them out, big improvements can result Parman said.
In reading, nearly one-fifth of all eighth- and 11th-graders were in the nearing proficiency level in Havre.
"Last year we introduced a new reading program. It's difficult after one year to test one grade level and decide" if it's working, Parman said. "Last year was the first year that every middle school student had at least one semester of reading."
Before, they had literature classes, but not necessarily classes that taught reading skills.
On the other hand, the fourth-graders' high scores are not necessarily a result of the change, Parman added.
"I look for red zones. Too high a number in a certain area. Or green zones," where there are a lot of advanced kids, Parman said.
Once he finds these key areas, Parman looks for explanations, he said.
This year, the red zones are in the reading areas, the green zones in math, he said. He will be exploring reasons for both, awaiting information from the next test and more data from this one to help him get some more answers.