By Carolyn Lee
The Imperial Republican
The Nebraska State of the Schools Report released last week shows growth in state accountability rankings. It also shows that, overall, all student groups have made gradual, consistent progress in reading and mathematics under the state testing system.
At Chase County Schools, improvement was seen in reading, math, science and writing scores at almost all grade levels.
School Superintendent Dr. Brad Schoeppey said, “Overall, I’m pleased, especially at the elementary level.” He said now the emphasis will be to improve math at the secondary level, and writing overall.
The State of the Schools Report gives an enormous amount of information, Dr. Schoeppey noted, including not only test scores, but teachers’ salaries and education levels, free school lunch students, the dropout rate, the graduation rate and race categories.
This information is gathered in the Nebraska Performance Accountability System, or NePAS.
NePAS showed that the overwhelming majority of the school districts demonstrated both improvement and growth in reading. While the number of districts showing improvement and growth in mathematics dropped slightly from the previous year, most districts showed improvement and growth.
The test scores are compared two ways—improvement from 2012 for different students, or those in, say, third grade this year to third grade last year, and growth since 2012, or students in fourth grade this year and in third grade last year.
CCS students in grades 3-5 ranked fourth in the state in improvement in reading (different students) and eighth in the state in growth in reading (same students).
That is out of 248 districts ranked. Last year those numbers were 77 and 137, respectively.
That’s a huge improvement, Dr. Schoeppey noted.
In grades 3-5, CCS’s status is as follows, with the rank in improvement this year followed by the rank last year, and the total districts ranked:
Reading—70, 230, 249;
Math—101, 216, 249;
Science—79, 182, 225;
Writing—175, not applicable, 223
In grades 6-8, CCS’s status is as follows, with the rank in improvement this year, the rank in improvement last year and the total districts ranked:
Reading—181, 224, 249;
Math—214, 234, 249;
Science—115, 213, 228
In grades 9-12, CCS’s status is as follows, with the rank in improvement this year, the rank in improvement last year, and the total districts ranked:
Reading—81, 43, 229;
Math—186, 116, 228;
Science—124, 41, 228
Dr. Schoeppey noted that it’s very hard to compare scores in grades 9-12 because only 11th grade students take the state test. The last time they were tested was in eighth grade, “so the scores can’t show the growth of the same students.”
The NePAS scores also determine which schools achieve federal accountability under the No Child Left Behind law, which requires school districts to ensure that every child passes the state testing.
Schools must strive to reach Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP. If they don’t, they’re put on a “needs to improve” list.
CCS was in its second year of “needs to improve” last year, and remained at the second year level this year.
There are 30 different areas that a school must meet to achieve AYP. “Failure to do any one of these things can put you on the list,” Dr. Schoeppey noted.
For instance, one year a school may not meet the standards in third grade boys’ reading. The next year that standard might be met but another area doesn’t meet the standard, so the school doesn’t move off the “needs to improve” list.
This year, CCS did not meet the standards in Hispanic math, as well as in the free and reduced lunch student math group.
The scores may be affected by as few as one or two students not meeting the standards in a grade, Dr. Schoeppey pointed out.
He added that there is a 25-percent Hispanic population at CCS, of which some are English Language Learners (ELL). If an ELL student is taking a reading test and is learning English, their test scores might not pass state standards.
However, Dr. Schoeppey said, “We don’t have a huge achievement gap between Hispanic and white” students. He has seen huge gaps in other school districts.
In third grade reading, Hispanic students scored 92 percent passing grades, he said.
“Whatever group put us in the list, we have to meet the standards two years in a row. Next year if we don’t meet the standards” in that group, CCS moves to year three, “so we really have to make an effort to get them up this year.”
If a school makes the “needs to improve” list three years, the state can begin to take sanctions.
Asked if No Child Left Behind places unrealistic expectations on school districts, Dr. Schoeppey said every year the percentage of students required to pass goes up, so it’s harder to make AYP.
Nine out of 10 students now need to pass the state test to achieve AYP, he said, as compared to, say, 60 percent when No Child Left Behind was started.
“It helps teachers focus on teaching to all levels, not just to the middle,” he said. However, it’s unrealistic to expect every single student to pass the state test, although that is what teachers strive for, Dr. Schoeppey said.
In a comparison with area school districts, CCS came out ahead, as shown by the page 1 chart accompanying this story. In the districts’ status on the Nebraska State Accountability (NeSA) tests, a district strives for a high scale score and a low scale score rank.