SSISD students score high on reading, writing in TAKS testing
But district taking steps to bolster math, science results
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

June 18, 2006 -- Sulphur Springs students scored high enough on the latest round of standardized tests to earn a passing grade, but the local school district is taking determined steps to bolster scores and help more students pass the tests.

Reading and writing were Sulphur Springs Independent School District students' best subjects on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exams, with more students passing those categories in the three other test areas.

Conversely, math and science continued to be the district's two weakest subjects. 

 TAKS standards this year required only 60 percent of students to pass the reading/English language arts, writing and social studies sections of the test, while only 40 percent were required to pass mathematics and only 35 percent to pass science in order to receive an academically acceptable or higher district rating, according to data provided by the school district.


Reading/English language arts

In reading/English language arts (ELA), overall passing rates by grade ranged from a high of 98 percent for third graders to 84 percent of juniors.

Other passing rates were 90 percent of fourth graders, 92 percent of fifth graders, 85 percent of seventh graders, 92 percent of eighth graders, 89 percent of freshmen, 92 percent of sophomores and 84 percent of juniors passed the test. Third and sixth grade special education students had a 100 percent pass rate.

Students in certain subsets in seventh grade, ninth grade, 10th grade and 11th grade had the most difficulty with the reading/ELA test. Only 59 percent of African American seventh graders passed, while 57 percent of seventh grade special education students, 17 percent of ninth grade limited English proficiency (LEP) students, 15 percent of 10th grade LEP, 29 percent of 10th grade special education, 58 percent of 10th grade Hispanic; 59 percent of 11th grade Hispanic and 44 percent of 11th grade LEP students passed.


Writing

Only fourth and seventh graders were tested in writing. Overall, 97 percent of fourth graders and 95 percent of seventh graders passed the test. Hispanic seventh graders were the only subset to have a 100 percent pass rate. The lowest pass percentage was 88 percent by fourth grade LEP students.


Social studies

At least 78 percent of students in each of the three grades tested passed the social studies exam.  High school juniors did the best with 90 percent overall passing. Eighth graders had an 87 percent pass rate and 10th graders a 78 percent pass rate. LEP students and special education students had the most difficult time overall in social studies, with 10th grade LEP students showing only a 63 percent and 11th grade a 33 percent pass rate. Eighth and 10th grade special education students had a 67 percent pass rate compared to the 57 pass rate among 11th grade special ed students taking social studies tests.


Math and Science

Math and science continued to be the district's two weakest subjects. Math scores appreciably decreased beginning in sixth grade, whereas science scores dropped significantly in both eighth and 10th grades. This year's 11th graders, however, had 14 percent more passing science than 10th grade.

MATH: Passing the math test were 91 percent of third graders, 92 percent of fourth graders, 97 of fifth graders, 85 percent of sixth graders, 74 percent of seventh graders, 72 percent of eighth graders, 53 percent of freshmen, 54 percent of sophomores and 71 percent of juniors. Fifth grade special education and LEP students did best on the math test, with 100 and 99 percent pass rates, respectively. 

SCIENCE: Only fifth grade, eighth grade, 10th and 11th grades were tested in science. Overall, 88 percent of fifth graders and 77 percent of eighth graders passed the TAKS science test. Those numbers continued falling, however, with only 54 percent of 10th graders and 68 percent of 11th graders passing.

LEP and special education students had the most difficulty passing, with only 17 percent of fifth grade LEP and 10th grade special education students passing, and only 55 percent of 8th grade special education, eight percent of 10th grade and 11 percent of 11th grade LEP students passing science.

The district is taking determined steps to bolster low math and science scores and to help special student populations having considerably more difficulty than other subsets in passing the test.

"We really are focusing on areas we need some change in, and are working to improve those areas," said Director of Elementary Education Connie Mabe.

Those efforts range from special course-specific summer school classess to curriculum alignment from kindergarten through 12th grade and special training for teachers of math and science courses.

The 2 percent of third grade students who did not pass the reading/ELA test will be given three chances to take the test, and the 18 fifth grade students yet to pass either the reading or math TAKS  are enrolled in summer school TAKS classes alongside the 90 bilingual students up to fifth grade enrolled in summer school classes at Lamar Elementary June 5-July 13. Those students will retest this summer.

For middle schoolers, summer classes began on May 31 and conclude July 6. High school TAKS exit level tutorials begin June 26 and conclude July 10, overlapping with the regular high school summer school classes offered for the first time in a number of years from June 5-July 13. Students in TAKS summer school are being tutored in math, science and other exit level courses. High school students will retest on exit level TAKS July 11-14.

Kindergarten through 12th grade teachers met June 6-7 and began working together to align the curriculum to be progressive from grade to grade, but also to establish continued terminology and to develop curriculum not addressed in text books yet which they must know on TAKS, Mabe told school board members Monday night.

Then, June 8, middle school teachers were trained in math exemplar, which essentially means they worked on means to improve middle schoolers' problem solving skills by teaching them to draw diagrams to solve word problems, and to hone in on words to help them solve the problems. This gets away from computation and walks them through the problem solving process from beginning to end, according to Mabe.

Another measure to help middle schoolers in math is the addition of sixth-eighth grade TAKS math classes.

Monday and Tuesday of this week, math specialist and elementary consultant Marcy Cook conducted a math workshop for third through fifth grade math teachers, to help them learn problem solving strategies incorporating "math manipulatives" to help students understand abstract math concepts.

The workshop by the world renowned educator, author and specialist was paid for by a grant. Cook on Monday taught hands-on number sense and on Tuesday demonstrated ways to make word problems more concrete using hands-on examples as a means to improve student scores, according to Mabe.

Cross's skills also lend themselves to manipulatives and strategies for special testing subsets, such as socioeconomic groups and special programs. For example, if special education students, economically disadvantage, limited English proficiency or African American students scored particularly low in certain grade levels on the TAKS, her training allowed her to point out different or alternate strategies to better reach those students at their learning level to bolster understanding.

The district also contracted with Betty Bates, a former East Texas science teacher now working with the education service center. Bates will work periodically throughout the school year with science teachers, pointing out weak areas where teachers could place more focus. She will begin working with middle school science teachers next week, and with high school teachers when school starts.

Last year, teachers also were charged with adding more hands-on science activities, incorporating at least one lab project a week so students can get a first-hand look at science topics during practical applications.

John Crane, who specializes in curriculum alignment, will also be brought in again to work particularly with sixth through ninth grade staff for continuity of core topics for a better transition from middle to high school course work.

She also noted that while all student subsets count toward AEIS ratings and on federal accountability checks of adequate yearly progress, state accountability does not include LEP and special education students. Also, if middle school and high school do not meet the adequate yearly progress standards those marks do not count against the district on AYP rankings because they are not Title I schools.

What tests and on which accountability results they are counted vary for special education students depending on their needs and the phase of testing administered this year, and accountability standards, Mabe said.

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