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Paynesville Press - April 20, 2005

Paynesville students excel on Basic Skills Tests

By Michael Jacobson

Paynesville students - eighth grader in math and reading and tenth graders in writing - passed the Basic Skills Tests in 2005 at rates above the state averages.

Nearly 97 percent of tenth graders passed the writing test; over 91 percent of eighth graders passed the reading test; and 76 percent of eighth graders passed the math test. This exceeded state averages for passage: 91 percent for tenth graders in writing, 85 percent for eighth graders in reading, and 74 percent for eighth graders in math.

While PAHS sophomores had the second highest passage rate among neighboring school districts and tied for the highest average scale score and while PAMS eighth graders reached the 90 percent passage mark for the first time and set a new high in average scale score, math results continue to stagnate. After reaching 83 percent passage on the eighth grade math test in 2001 and 84 percent passage in 2002, PAMS students have dropped to 75 or 76 percent passage in 2003, 2004, and 2005.

Individual test results were mailed to students and parents.

Writing Test
Ninety-five of 98 PAHS sophomores passed the Basic Skills Writing Test, given in January, this year. The district's passage percentage slipped slightly from last year, when 95 of 97 sophomores passed the test. The district set a record high last year in passage percentage.

Basic Skills Writing Test PAHS sophomores ranked second among neighboring school districts in passage percentage on the reading test, trailing only Rocori (97.3 percent) and just edging 96.94 percent for PAHS to 96.92 percent for ACGC.

PAHS sophomores continued to have an average scale score of 3.3 on the writing test, which they have done for the past five years. PAHS sophomores even averaged 3.4 on the writing test in 2003.

This year, PAHS sophomores tied with Eden Valley-Watkins and Melrose tenth graders for the highest average scale score (3.3).

"Our students did well again this year," said Amy Flanders, who teaches sophomore English classes at PAHS. "We have a high success rate, and our average test score and percentage passing compare favorably with area schools."

The Basic Skills Writing Test was given in January with students writing about someone who they admired as children.

The writing test is graded on a scale of 1-6, with scores of 1-4 for essays that display basic skills and with scores of 5-6 for essays that surpass the basics. According to the scoring guidelines, the scoring goes: 1 - a very inadequate response; 2 - a less than adequate response; 3 - an adequate response; 4 - a more than adequate response; 5 - a skillful composition; 6 - an exceptionally skillful composition.

Essays are judged on organization, clarity, focus, structure, and using support and elaboration. They can also be penalized for errors like spelling and grammatical mistakes.

Reading Test
Eighty-five of 93 eighth graders at PAMS passed the Basic Skills Reading Test, yielding a passing percentage of 91.4 percent, the highest ever for the district.

The district continues to show good progress in its reading results. Since the Basic Skills testing began in 1996, the district's passing percentage on the eighth grade reading test has risen from 48 percent in 1996 (when the state average was 53 percent) to 91 percent in 2005 (when the state average is 85 percent).

The district has exceeded the state rate in passing percentage for the past five years.

Of the nine neighboring school districts, Paynesville was one of the five to have a passing percentage of over 90 percent on the reading test. Eden Valley-Watkins led the neighboring school districts in passing percentage again at 98 percent, followed by Albany (93 percent) and Rocori (93 percent).

In average score, PAMS eighth graders also exceeded the state average, scoring 652.4 this year compared to the state average of 644.4. Among neighboring school districts, average score on the reading test went as follows: EV-W, 662.1; NL-S, 653.7; Albany, 653.2; Paynesville, 652.4; Rocori, 652.4; Melrose, 649.1; Sauk Centre, 646.1; BBE, 638.8; and ACGC, 638.6.

Basic Skills Test Results

Math Test
Progress in math were not as evident for the district, which has focused on improving its math curriculum in the elementary school.

The reason that the district has focused on math instruction at the elementary can be seen by looking at class progress. The district now has test results for this year's eighth grade class from their third grade MCAs, from their fifth grade MCAs, and from their eighth grader Basic Skills Test. As third graders, 58.5 percent of the class tested at a passing level on the MCAs. As fifth graders, 64.4 percent tested at a passing level. And as eighth graders, 75.8 percent tested at a passing level on the Basic Skills Test.

This means that six percent improved to passing from third grade to fifth grade and another 11.4 percent improved to passing from fifth grade to eighth grade.

In reading, for comparison, 23 percent improved to passing from third grade to fifth grade and another 12 percent improved to passing from fifth grade to eighth grade.

On the third grade MCAs, 58.5 of this year's eighth grade class was already passing in math compared with only 56.5 percent in reading. This year's Basic Skills Test showed that 91 percent of the eighth grade class is now passing in reading, compared to only 76 percent in math.

This sort of comparison, judging the same class by testing at different grades, helps to evaluate the curriculum. Year-to-year comparisons don't account for the strength of the class in a particular subject.

Sixty-nine of 91 PAMS eighth graders passed the math test this year. With a passing percentage of 76 percent, the district ranked last among the nine neighboring school districts. EV-W also led in passing percentage in eighth grade math at 95 percent. Albany and Rocori (both at 93 percent) were the only other neighboring school districts to top 90 percent in passing percentage.

While PAMS eighth graders still passed the math test at a better rate than the state average, their average score (627.6) was below the state average (632.0) for the second year in a row. After peaking with an average score of 646.6 in 2002, PAMS eighth graders have decreased their average score on the math test for three straight years.

Among neighboring school districts, average score on the math test this year went as follows: EV-W, 670.6; Rocori, 656.7; Albany, 654.5; Sauk Centre, 640.7; Melrose, 639.5; NL-S, 637.2; Paynesville, 627.6; BBE, 625.9; and ACGC, 625.2.

Last year, the district purchased new math textbooks for the elementary school. Elementary principal Deb Gillman, who also serves as the district's curriculum coordinator, already has heard good responses from the elementary staff about the new math textbooks. As teachers get more comfortable with the more advanced curriculum, Gillman is confident that the district math scores will improve.

But, she warned, "It is going to take at least another year or two to see the effects of the new math curriculum (on the test results) because it's in the elementary."

Next year, the district plans to purchase online access for parental support that goes with the new math textbooks, said Gillman, which should also help. And the district plans to purchases CDs for the computer lab so students can practice math problems if they need extra help, she added.

Gillman also expects that when the first class of students who started with all-day, everyday kindergarten (currently second graders) start state testing that their test results should show improvement due to their extra schooling.

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