Test scores are in

| 15 Feb 2012 | 09:41

    Results show Sparta keeping pace with district factor group Sparta — Dr. Kathleen Monks, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Staff Development, gave a presentation at the Sept. 29 Board of Education meeting on the results of Sparta schools standardized test scores for 2010-2011. The results show Sparta students scored well above average in proficiency for language arts and math, but still below average in advanced proficiency. Monks used a power point presentation to illustrate the test results, which can be viewed on the district Web site at www.Sparta.org (click on Board of Education, then Academics). Beginning with the third grade, she reviewed the assessed strength and weaknesses for each grade level and how the district plans to address weaknesses and build on strengths going forward. In some cases where a weakness is identified, as Monks illustrated in third grade expository and speculative writing, they become strengths the following year once these skills are taught. Fourth grade scores in this area showed improvement. Conversely, where math showed as a strength in third grade, students scored lower in problem solving in fourth grade, but then science became a strength. Sparta students scored well above average in proficiency, as compared to their district factor group, in language arts, math, and science in all grades with the exception of third grade language arts which was four points below the average and fifth grade language arts, which was a tenth of a point below the average. However, the results shows Sparta students still score below district factor group averages in advanced proficiency in both language arts and math. Officials say they have concentrated more on reducing the number of students who score partially proficient and increasing the proficiency scores, rather than on increasing the advanced proficiency scores. In New Jersey, all students’ scores are grouped together in standardized test results. Even students with special needs, who have individual education plans, must take the standardized tests and their scores are reported as part of the aggregate district scores. An initiative currently being considered by the United States Department of Education is for states to be able to opt out of some portions of the No Child Left Behind Act. New Jersey is looking to submit a waiver application in exchange for the state’s intention to adopt the National Core Standards, establish a statewide evaluation system for teachers, as well as their commitment to closing achievement gaps and promoting rigorous accountability. Test results for most districts could look quite different if general education students’ scores were separated from special education students’ scores. The results reported by Monks are the general scores as released by the state and the specific scores for each school in each district will not be released until early 2012. The district’s ranking within its district factor group will not be clear until then. However, Monks said that with scores tracking so close to the district averages, and often above average for proficiency, she is confident the district is not at the bottom of its district factor group, as some have claimed. The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), which was changed significantly in 2006, has shown that Sparta students have improved each year from 2005/06 through 2008/09 in math, reading, and writing. SAT scores in 2009/10 showed a drop for Sparta students in all three areas and in 2010/11 another drop in math scores, but an increase in reading and writing scores. Superintendent Dr. Thomas Morton said SAT scores across the nation showed an inexplicable drop in all areas during 2010-2011, but Sparta had actually scored higher in two of the three criteria. He said this showed Sparta was “bucking a national trend” by showing improvement rather than decline. District critics often cite Sparta’s test scores as ranking in the bottom half of its district factor group. Morton said he is bothered by these comments because it detracts from the hard work of the district’s students and teachers. “I can’t imagine why they would want to discredit our students. We need a voice to say what is real, not what is politically useful for someone to say.” He said Monks is the community’s expert on curriculum and what is real is what she discussed during her presentation. Monks will give an academic presentation at each monthly board meeting going forward. In October she will discuss additional indicators of student achievement and in December she will discuss upcoming changes to state assessments. District will embark on Kindle pilot project Sparta High School will pilot a new program for some sophomore English classes that will use Kindles instead of text books for literature. The move is prompted by future state assessments that will be based on close readings, during which students are required to highlight text and make notes in the margins as they read. With text books which are shared by students from class to class, this is not possible, but with Kindles these notations can be erased and the text used by another student. Students must also have access to all titles read during the year and these will be more easily accessible on a Kindle, rather than for the students to carry all the books with them. There will also be a financial savings to the district by using the Kindles. Each device will cost the district $114 and it will not cost the district anything to access the titles necessary for the tenth grade English curriculum. If these titles were purchased in hard cover, it would cost $129 per student.