RF students stay sharpGoing by the new, state standardized test scores to gauge the quality of local public education, River Falls students are in the driver’s seat.
By: Phil Pfuehler, River Falls Journal
Going by the new, state standardized test scores to gauge the quality of local public education, River Falls students are in the driver’s seat.
Compared to neighboring school districts, River Falls comes out near the top in every category. This elevated status has remained unaltered for many years.
Yet success doesn’t seem to spoil the attitudes of school district administrators.
They don’t view the tests as a glorified scorecard, but as a means to fine-tune the curriculum and coordinate instructional strategies.
They also speak modestly about the high-test scores.
“The scores were pretty good, but we want them to be great,” said Mike Johnson, former Meyer Middle School principal and now the district’s academic services director. “There’s always room for improvement.
“Everybody in our school district wants to do better than the year before, regardless of the political climate and the financial situation.”
The latest results come from the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concept Exams (WKCE) administered for a few days last November.
Fourth, 8th and 10th graders go through the most extensive testing with WKCE. Third, 5th, 6th and 7th graders are tested in only two subjects.
Most questions were multiple choice. Some required short-essay answers.
Based on all answers, student competence was classified as either advanced, proficient, basic, or minimal.
The following test results compare the percentage of students in each school district attaining either advanced or proficient in the five core subjects.
- Language arts: RIVER FALLS, 87.3% (last year, 81.1%); Hudson, 85%; Spring Valley, 83.6%; St. Croix Central, 81.5%; Baldwin-Woodville, 81.2; Prescott, 80.1; Ellsworth, 77.5%; New Richmond, 74.1%; Menomonie, 73.4%; Somerset, 70.3%; State, 69.8; Rice Lake, 69.5%; and Osceola, 67.4%.
- Math: RIVER FALLS, 89.8% (last year 89.9%); Spring Valley, 89.3%; Hudson, 89.1%; Prescott, 84.2%; St. Croix Central, 83.9%; New Richmond, 83.8%; Ellsworth, 82.1%; Osceola, 81.5%; Baldwin-Woodville, 81.4%; Rice Lake, 80.6%; Somerset, 80.4%; Menomonie, 77.8%; and state, 77.2%.
- Reading: RIVER FALLS, 93.8% (last year, 92.4%); Hudson, 92.2%; Ellsworth, 91.4%; Spring Valley, 91.2%; Prescott, 90.7%; St. Croix Central, 90.6%; Baldwin-Woodville, 90.2%; New Richmond, 89.3%; Rice Lake, 85.7%; Menomonie, 85.5%; Osceola, 85.4%; Somerset, 85.2%; state, 83%.
- Science: Spring Valley, 95.2%; RIVER FALLS, 89.9% (last year, 89.7%); Hudson, 89.5%; Prescott, 88.6%; Ellsworth, 87.3%; Baldwin-Woodville, 86.8%; St. Croix Central, 86.6%; Menomonie, 83.4%; New Richmond, 82.4%; Somerset, 79.3%; Rice Lake, 78.9%; Osceola, 78.4%; state, 76.3%.
- Social Studies: RIVER FALLS, 95.6% (last year, 93%); Spring Valley, 94.5%; Prescott and Hudson, 93.5%; Baldwin-Woodville, 91.8%; Ellsworth, 91.7%; St. Croix Central, 91.4%; New Richmond, 88.8%; Menomonie, 87.1%; Osceola, 86.1%; Somerset, 85.5%; Rice Lake, 84%; state, 83.9%.
More test results
While there are endless ways to dissect the WKCE results, here are a few comparisons from data provided by the state’s Department of Public Instruction.
One is between River Falls 10th graders and those of Hudson. The two districts typically score at roughly the same high test level.
For this comparison, three other high schools of comparable size from across the state are included that have solid scholastic reputations: Pewaukee, Nicolet and Marshfield.
The five have their 10th grade scores measured for the percentage of students reaching the highest level -- advanced.
- Reading: Nicolet and Marshfield, 59.4%; River Falls, 57.3%; Hudson, 56.8%; Pewaukee, 37.3%.
- Language arts: Nicolet, 39.8%; River Falls, 35.3%; Hudson, 29.8; Marshfield, 28.1%; Pewaukee, 20.3%.
- Math: Nicolet, 39.5%; Hudson, 38.5%; River Falls, 34.4%; Marshfield, 33.1%; Pewaukee, 25.5%.
- Science: Hudson, 61.3%; Nicolet, 54.9%; River Falls, 53.7%; Marshfield, 51.8%; Pewaukee, 51%.
- Social studies: Hudson, 78.4%, River Falls, 72%; Marshfield, 70.1%; Nicolet, 69.2%; Pewaukee, 51%.
At the 8th grade level at Meyer Middle School, two trends were notable:
- Advanced scores in math have been going up for four straight years. This year, 40.8% of all 8th graders scored advanced while 48.7% were proficient. Four years ago, the percentages were 29% advanced and 59.3% proficient.
- Language arts scores have generally risen for years. This year, 50.3% of all 8th graders were considered advanced. In 2002, only 28% were advanced.
Fourth grade test scores at Greenwood, Rocky Branch, Westside and the Montessori program varied from subject to subject. Rating the Montessori is harder because there are only
In reading test, the Montessori, at 69.2%, had the most advanced readers followed by Westside, 60.3; Rocky Branch, 49.2%; and Greenwood, 46.5%. Greenwood had a big drop in the number of advanced readers from past years.
In language arts, Greenwood, at 44.2%, had the most advanced followed by Westside, 41.3%; Montessori, 38.5%; and Rocky Branch, 37.3%. The Montessori had a huge drop in advanced readers compared to last year’s 77.8%.
In math, Rocky Branch, at 55.9% advanced, continued a steady high trend in that subject followed by Montessori, 53.8%; Westside, 47.6%; and Greenwood, 34.9%. Greenwood had a big drop in advanced math performers from last year’s 52.5%, while Montessori had a big jump from last year’s 33.9%.
In science, Montessori had the most advanced with 61.5% (a big jump from last year’s 44.4%), followed by Westside, 30.2%; Greenwood, 20.9% (down from last year’s 47.5%); and Rocky Branch, at 20.3%.
In social studies, Montessori, for the four straight year, had 100% advanced followed by Westside at 84.1% (way up from last year’s 69.2%); Rocky Branch, 71.2%; and Greenwood’s 65.1% (large drop from last year’s 86.9%.)
Johnson cautioned that test data can swing markedly from year to year in the same grade. That’s often due to the varying abilities of a new class of students who are evaluated.
One of the “biggest success stories” noted by Johnson this year was the high percentage of sixth graders at Meyer Middle School who reached advanced in math: 64%.
Three years ago, those sixth graders were 3rd graders and only 44% reached advanced.
“I’m very pleased by the numbers of kids who attained ‘advanced’ status in math,” Johnson said about the current group of middle school 6th graders.
Johnson said the tracking of students as they go on from grade to grade reveals much about their academic progress leading up to graduation.
He credits the district’s Everyday Math (K-5) program, now in its third year, with “bringing a unified approach” to math instruction at the elementary schools.
“The elementary school teachers have also worked very hard together with the delivery of the new math program,” he said. “As we can see, it’s paying off.”
Another success was the strong showing by 10th graders in language arts. Typically those scores drop from 8th grade levels.
“This time we held firm and even gained ground,” Johnson said, adding that more students taking an English 10 class in the fall brought about more testing competence. He said students who need to will be urged to take the English class right away in 10th grade.
Johnson said that in the past, and with the high school block schedule format, students might take a freshman English class first semester but not take another English class until the second semester of their sophomore year.
That English class gap, he said, was partly to blame for past drops in language arts mastery from 8th to 10th grade.
Johnson also noted an uptick in 8th grade language arts scores, rather than the usual decline from 4th grade scores.
He attributed the gain to replacing foreign language classes with one section of two new classes in fall 2009: Language arts publishing, for grade 7, and language arts portfolio, for grade 8.
On top of that, Johnson said Principal Mark Chapin this year has placed a writing emphasis across the entire Meyer Middle School curriculum.
Need to collaborate
Johnson said the teachers are making wise use of the four early release/late start days this semester -- two hours for each session -- to assemble, coordinate and blend what they teach to students.
This coordination applies to each grade, from lower to upper grades, and from the elementary schools to middle school and the high school.
“The aim is to collaborate, have consistency in standards that are taught, and to align our efforts among all the buildings,” he said. “And, I must say, the teachers are delivering big time in this area -- with their collegiality, their following of the process, their use of common assessments and with curriculum mapping.”
Johnson said the teachers appreciate the extra time to work and plan together. He said the outcome in the years ahead will be a more reliably consistent education model that will only improve the learning depth of River Falls students.
Johnson used the phrase, “It takes a village,” to characterize the sharing, coordinated approach by administrators and teachers toward education.
Johnson also said another expected boost to the school district’s curriculum should occur in 2012-13 when a new K-5 elementary school reading series is introduced.
Aside from the big picture, Johnson said the WKCE results can zero in on minutia -- like which students may need extra grammatical tutoring to master subject-verb agreement; the use of independent/dependant clauses; a “probability” question for math; and science answers for questions related to “major ideas of atomic and molecular theories.”
If parents or anyone want to check over the test data described in this story, go online to the DPI website at www.dpi.state.wi.us/sig/index.html. Click on DATA analysis to begin a search.