Alachua County students shine with test scores


Published: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 31, 2006 at 10:51 a.m.

Alachua County's public school students outpaced state and national averages as well as their own previous scores in test results released May 24.

In the Norm Referenced Test, a math and reading assessment taken by students nationwide, Alachua County children scored well above the national median and beat state medians in all but one grade level. And the district's scores in all but eighth grade were above last year's scores. The local students also beat state averages in every grade level on the science part of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Dan Boyd said he's "not surprised" by local students' performance on the tests. They out-scored 73 percent of the students who took the national math test, and 69 percent of the students who took the national reading test. That's 3 percent higher than the state averages on both tests.

Boyd said the results prove Alachua County's students are "very competitive nationwide," just as other tests, such as the SAT and Advanced Placement tests have shown.

Deputy Superintendent Sandy Hollinger, who oversees the district's curriculum, said the results show that Florida's statewide standards may be too tough.

"I have a concern when I talk to parents whose children are in the nation's 70th percentile in reading, but they're still getting a two on the FCAT," she said. By state standards, students must reach at least Level 3 on the FCATs to be proficient in reading.

Hollinger said state officials should at least consider students' NRT scores when deciding whether they're proficient in a given subject.

FCATs are used to determine how schools rank against each other, whether third-graders make it to fourth grade, and whether high school seniors will graduate. They also determine whether schools will get bonus money.

While the longer-established math, writing and reading portions of the FCATs have played such roles for years, the science exam won't weigh into school grades until next year's test. And state education officials said there are no plans yet to use the science test to determine whether a student passes or fails.

This year was the first year Florida released students' science proficiency rates, and just 34 percent of students tested statewide were performing at the level state guidelines require. In Alachua County, 41 percent met the mark.

Anticipating the stronger influence the science tests will have in future school years, Alachua County's Hollinger said she plans to review the district's science curriculum and make any necessary changes. For example, if the tests include earth science questions a year before students take earth science classes, the sequence of science classes may need to be changed so students can take the class before the test.

There may be additional changes from the top, as state officials — responding to eighth-graders' lower proficiency rates —are reviewing that grade level's science standards.

Florida Education Commissioner John Winn said the department of education will examine its own standards to make sure they're appropriate, and it will look at whether the right instructional materials are being used in classrooms, whether teachers are appropriately prepared and whether classrooms have the equipment needed for the science classes.

Winn said he's especially concerned about the number of science teachers who are not certified in science.

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