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Student test scores remain elevated

The Wisconsin Knowledge and Concept Exams, taken last November, reveal in a general way how local kids are doing in school.

The WKCE results show how River Falls did in five core subjects for grades 4, 8 and 10. Below, local scores are compared to state averages and eight other area school districts. These show what percentage of students achieved either advanced or proficient rankings:

Science: RIVER FALLS, 89.7%; Ellsworth, 86.6%; Hudson, 86.3%; New Richmond, 84.6%; Prescott, 83.5%; Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls, 82.2%; Rice Lake, 81.6%; Menomonie, 79.6%; STATE, 76%.

Social studies: RIVER FALLS, 93%; Ellsworth, 91%; Prescott, 90.9%; Hudson, 90.8%; New Richmond, 90.1%; Chippewa Falls, 86.9%; Eau Claire, 85.7%; Rice Lake, 85.5%; Menomonie, 82.7%; State, 82.4%.

Math: RIVER FALLS, 89.9%; Hudson, 87.9%; Prescott, 84.8%; New Richmond, 83.1%; Rice Lake, 82.8%; Chippewa Falls, 82.5%; Eau Claire, 82.1%; Ellsworth, 80.9%; STATE, 77.3%; Menomonie, 75.1%.

Reading: RIVER FALLS, 92.4%; Hudson, 91.4%; New Richmond, 88.7%; Prescott, 88.4%; Ellsworth, 87.3%; Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire, 86.3%; Rice Lake, 85.9%; Menomonie, 81.9%; STATE, 81.6%.

Language Arts: Hudson, 82.7%; RIVER FALLS, 81.1%; New Richmond, 79.1%; Prescott, 78.6%; Ellsworth, 77.8%; Chippewa Falls, 74.9%; Eau Claire, 74.8%; Rice Lake, 74.2%; Menomonie, 70.2%; STATE, 70%.

Osterhaus, who used to the high test scores in River Falls, said, "Overall, pretty good results. We're doing things right, and the kids are rising to the challenge."

Breaking down the composite scores, Osterhaus made the following observations:

  • He's "thrilled with the math results" at all grade levels. Trends show that as students advance from grade to grade, those math scores -- on average -- keep rising. Osterhaus credited "the strong math and science teachers" at the middle and high schools.

    Just as important, he added, is a new math curriculum, now in its second year, called "Everyday Math." All teachers use it and test scores reflect this universal approach.

    Osterhaus expects the good math news to continue, especially since it begins with students coming up from the elementary schools.

  • Very happy about the boost the federal Title 1 federal program gives to elementary-age students in math and reading. The extra one-on-one tutoring, he said, gives those students a solid base that propels them to the upper grades.

    Title 1 is based on the percentage of lower household incomes in a school district, and Osterhaus said River Falls demographics show more students in this category.

    Trends, he added, show strong gains for so-called "economically disadvantaged students" who fall behind and must receive "accelerated" instruction to "cover more than a year's growth in one year's time."

  • Reading scores, while still strong, dipped this year for fourth and 10th graders, and there was also a decline in "advanced" reading for third, fourth and fifth graders.

    Osterhaus said the long upward reading trend in River Falls has "flattened out." He said the district needs to update the 13-year-old reading curriculum now used. Ballpark cost to do so: $180,000.

  • Language arts, which tests for writing, language usage, research and inquiry, showed overall declines. Osterhaus pointed out that River Falls was still well above the state average and said this subject has seen generally lower scores statewide.

    Language arts advanced/proficiency scores showed a large drop for this year's fourth graders (93.7% to 84.8%) and another big drop for the current 10th graders.

    Overall, more River Falls students scored as advanced in math (46%) and science (46%) than in language arts (33%). Advanced scores for reading was 61%; for social studies it was 67%.

  • Concern about reading and math scores for special education students as they go from middle to high school. Trends from 8th to 10th grade showed big declines.

    Advanced/proficiency in reading dropped from 80% to 40%, and in math it went from 58% to 35%. On the other hand, Osterhaus said special-ed scores in the elementary schools were generally much higher and encouraging.

  • This year's 8th grade test scores were up in all five core subjects. Conversely, 4th grade scores were down in all five subjects. Tenth grade scores were down in every subject but math. (Third, 5th, 6th and 7th graders also only tested in two subjects: math and reading.)

Osterhaus said year-to-year fluctuations mean less to him because he looks for "trend lines" -- score patterns of at least three years.

For those seeking more information, Osterhaus will give a WKCE presentation about River Falls to the school board's Ed Program Committee at its 6 p.m. Monday, May 3, meeting at the district's Central Office.

Also, more test results can be found at the state's Department of Public Instruction website: Click on Data Analysis.

"We have really solid scores," Osterhaus said. "And we continue to grow in areas where we have to grow. But I've got to be honest, what we've got to do next is look at our reading and high-school special education areas, because those drops are not blips but trends."