October 24, 2014
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Schools forescast continued improved test scores

Although Warwick schools continue to see improved NECAP test scores, Dr. Anne Siesel, assistant director of curriculum for the school department, says the district expects to see even higher scores next year.

Siesel said the district has been redesigning the math curriculum and working with the DANA Center in Texas to align it to the Common Core Standards. The new curriculum is being implemented this year and she expects next year’s test scores to benefit from it. In addition to revamping the math curriculum, Siesel said work has already begun on transitioning the English language arts curriculum to the same standards.

The move is part of early preparation for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) test, which tests the Common Core Standards as opposed to the Grade Level Expectations (GLEs) and Grade Span Expectations (GSEs), which the NECAP tests. In 2014, all districts in the state will replace NECAP with the PARCC test.

During a presentation at the School Committee’s Tuesday meeting, Siesel talked about the 2011 test results.

Siesel said 79 percent of all Warwick students tested were proficient in reading and 58 percent were proficient in math. Compared to last year’s results, no gains were made at the elementary level in reading as the percent proficient stayed at 79, but the junior high level saw a three-point gain to 81 percent while the senior high level dropped five points to 78 percent. In math, elementary dropped two points to 65 percent, junior high gained two points at 58 percent and senior high dropped five points to 26 percent.

Aldrich, Gorton and Pilgrim each made significant gains in both reading and math from 2007 to 2011 while Cedar Hill, Robertson and Holden all scored greater than 75 percent proficiency in reading and math, and Toll Gate showed a significant increase in reading.

Students in grades 3 through 8, as well as grade 11, are tested on math and reading each year in October. Students in grades 4, 8 and 11 are also tested in writing. There are four levels of proficiency: proficient with distinction; proficient; partially proficient; and substantially below proficient. The percent of proficiency is determined by adding the percent proficient and the percent proficient with distinction.

Siesel said grades 4, 6 and 8 showed improvement in reading and grades 4 and 8 also showed growth in math. Grade 5 showed the largest loss in reading and math.

“Some grade levels showed consistent growth while others did not,” she said, adding that most students are making progress in reading as they move through the grade levels.

“Grade 5 dropped eight points, but the students actually made growth from grade 4 to grade 5,” she said. “They’re starting at a lower point, but they’re making progress each year.”

As an example, Siesel said 77 percent of the 2005 third graders were proficient in reading and of the same cohort, 84 percent were proficient in reading this year.

Siesel said one of the important ways to look at data is by concept within a subject. Reading and math are broken up into various strands, or concepts, that students are tested on. Reading strands include vocabulary, literary text, informational text, initial understanding, and analysis and interpretation.

“Warwick scored the highest in vocabulary and initial understanding, but analysis and interpretation was a weak area across all grade levels,” she said. “It shows us where we need to look and identify areas to flesh out in the lesson plans.”

Math concepts tested included numbers and operation, geometry and measurement, functions and algebra, and data, statistics and probability.

“We found that in grades 3, 4, and 5, the strength is numbers and operation, but as you get higher in the grades, the strength is functions and algebra,” Siesel said. “Geometry and measurement is the weakness across all grade levels.”

With regard to writing, Siesel said test data is not compared from year to year because the writing genre students are tested on changes each year.

“We would be comparing apples to oranges, so we don’t compare data,” she said.

Overall, 58 percent of Warwick students were proficient in writing, with 66 percent in grade 5, 59 percent in grade 8 and 47 percent in grade 11. Schools that made significant gains in writing were Cedar Hill, Robertson, Greenwood, Scott, Holden, Sherman, Warwick Neck and Wyman.

Siesel said it’s important to look at data in different ways to see what progress has been made or not made.

“When going from third grade to fourth grade, reading proficiency decreases,” she said. “That needs to be investigated further to see why proficiency goes down after third grade and then back up.”

With math, Siesel said proficiency rates decline after fifth grade.

“As a district, we’ve been addressing this and will continue to address it,” she said.

Siesel said it’s also important to look at how various student groups performed, the purpose of which is to look for improvement within the group and to identify where there are gaps between groups. Within groups, she said, economically disadvantaged students, defined as those who receive free or reduced lunch, showed the largest growth in reading and math while Black students showed the greatest loss.

“Our largest gap is between students with IEPs [Individualized Education Plan] and students without IEPs. There is up to a 55-point gap between the two groups in reading and math,” she said, adding that elementary schools reduced the gap in reading by one point while junior highs reduced it by three points and senior highs reduced the gap in math by five points.

“It’s important to note the size of the groups when looking at Warwick’s data,” Siesel said. “A small sample size may produce dramatic numbers. This means that while the data may show a dramatic gain or loss, the figure may only be talking about a few students.”

For example, at the elementary level there are 2,500 students without IEPs compared to just over 500 with IEPs.

Siesel said as part of the Race to the Top application, Warwick established performance measures starting last year to ensure the district works toward reaching the state-set goals in 2014.

“These are ‘boiler plate’ goals not tailored to Warwick,” Siesel said. “The goal across the state is to reach 90 percent proficiency and reduce gaps by 50 percent by 2014, but the district has the autonomy to set our own yearly targets.”

For example, Siesel said the math goal for grade 4 this year was 78 percent, but the actual performance was only 71 percent.

“It’s a very ambitious goal and we’re working very diligently to achieve that,” she said.

Committee member Eugene Nadeau asked if any of the 36 districts that signed onto the Race to the Top grant said it was impossible to achieve these goals in such a short amount of time.

Robert Bushell, director of elementary education, said the target was originally set at 100 percent proficiency.

“We told them it was impossible to have 100 percent of students achieve proficiency, so they lowered it to 90, so they heard us on that,” he said.

Superintendent Peter Horoschak said the 100 percent was set at the Congressional level but states can set their own proficiency level, and in Rhode Island it was set at 90 percent.

“It’s a federal mandate, but the states determine what the proficient level is, it’s not necessarily the same thing from one state to another,” he said.

Toll Gate Principal Stephen Chrabaszcz suggested one of the reasons for higher math scores last year was because students took the test seriously since they thought it counted toward graduation.

“Scores at Toll Gate sky rocketed last year when we told students they wouldn’t graduate if they don’t pass. We held a study session after school and 225 students out of 260 showed up,” he said. “Once it means something, the students will come back and the grades will sky rocket again.”

School Committee Chair Beth Furtado said it comes down to an either-or situation.

“We know that students work hard and put in the time and effort, but it seems like an either-or – either it’s high stakes or it’s not,” she said. “If kids know it matters, they will put in the effort. It needs uniformity and consistency so we’re all on the same page.”


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