Wichita students lag state averages on reading, math tests

11/14/2013 11:17 AM

12/09/2013 6:27 AM

Wichita public school students continue to perform below state averages on reading and math tests, but scores at some grade levels improved from the previous year, according to data released by the state Department of Education.

Results from the 2013 Kansas assessments, presented during a State Board of Education meeting this week, show that Kansas students’ overall scores on reading and math tests slipped this year, declining together for the first time since 2000.

Wichita’s test-score trends echoed the state’s for the most part, with declines in four of seven grade levels that tested in reading and six of seven grades in math.

There was some positive news, though. The percentage of Wichita 11th-graders performing in the top three levels on the assessment – meets standard, exceeds standard or exemplary – was higher than the previous year in both reading and math.

In reading, 73.9 percent of Wichita high school juniors scored proficient in reading, compared with 72.9 percent in 2012. In math, 63.6 percent scored proficient this year, compared with 61.4 percent in 2012. Statewide, 87.3 percent of 11th-graders were proficient in reading, and 79.6 percent in math.

Wichita scores also increased in seventh-grade reading – 72.5 percent proficient this year compared with 70.5 percent in 2012. Sixth-grade reading scores were the same as last year, with 70.3 percent scoring at or above standards.

At some grade levels, Wichita students posted their lowest scores in eight years. In sixth grade, for example, only 56.2 percent of Wichita students met math standards, compared with 76 percent of sixth-graders statewide. Only 57.4 percent of Wichita seventh-graders met math standards, compared with 73.7 percent statewide.

Deputy Education Commissioner Brad Neuenswander said the statewide drop in scores is at least partly a result of Kansas moving to new academic standards. As schools adapt, he said, what’s being taught no longer fully aligns with the tests, a situation officials view as temporary with the tests slated for revisions.

Denise Seguine, assistant superintendent of learning services for Wichita schools, said officials “weren’t totally surprised” with the district’s showing.

“It was a little hard to predict where it might fall,” she said, since the test was not aligned with material being taught in Wichita classrooms. Next spring’s assessments – a “transitional test” still being developed by the University of Kansas’ Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation – is a mystery as well.

“What we think about is, we’ve got kids in our classrooms every day, and we’re going to teach them every day,” Seguine said. “We’re going to follow our plans for districtwide improvement and not focus so much on what might happen that hasn’t happened yet.

“Our work is our kids, and we want to see them improve every day. That’s what we work at.”

Third-grade reading scores a particular concern for Wichita educators. Only 64.3 percent of Wichita third-graders scored at or above reading standards this year, compared to nearly 80 percent statewide.

Wichita superintendent John Allison said during a community forum this week that students who are not proficient in reading by the end of third grade have only a 30 percent chance of being proficient by graduation. Those students also are four times less likely to graduate high school. If they come from homes of poverty, he said, they are 13 times less likely to graduate.

“When we look at our third grade, we can make some projections about graduation rates if we don’t do something about literacy,” Allison said.

Two years ago, the Wichita school district adopted Read Well, a new reading program for kindergartners, as part of Allison’s focus on early literacy. The curriculum, which incorporates research on literacy and how children learn, has since been expanded to first grade, where it is used as part of intervention strategies for struggling readers.

More recently, the district mandated a renewed focus on decoding – the practice of breaking words into individual sounds – for older elementary students.

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