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Statewide (3rd Grade)
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Juneau elementary and middle school students' state benchmark test score averages continued to improve this year with the district-wide averages besting state averages. Juneau School District officials are concerned, however, about the disparity between high- and low-testing schools.
About 10,000 third-, sixth- and eighth-grade students took the benchmark test for reading, writing and math in March. The scores, released last week by the Juneau School District, are one of many indicators of how well students are prepared for the high school graduation qualifying exam given in 10th grade.
Of Juneau third graders who took the test, 80 percent passed reading, 60 percent passed writing and 84 percent passed math. For sixth graders, 73 percent passed reading, 76 percent passed writing and 71 percent passed math. For eighth-graders, 86 percent passed reading, 70 percent passed writing and 52 percent passed math.
In every grade level Juneau students were ahead of the state averages in reading and math sometimes by as many as 10 points. The weak area was writing, where some scores hovered at or just above the state averages.
"We are very proud of our students," said Superintendent Gary Bader. "(But) this is a very broad average."
The positive test score averages should be judged among many indicators of student success, and shouldn't obscure the disparity in test scores between different schools within the district, said Bader.
"If I have got one foot in boiling water and one foot in freezing water, I'm doing just fine," Bader said. "We've got one (school) with (scores in the) 90s and one with zeros (in some areas), and we are worried about the zeros."
At the middle school level, Floyd Dryden scored slightly higher than Dzantik'i Heeni. But the larger difference existed between elementary schools.
The group with the highest scores was third grade at Auke Bay Elementary, with 90 percent proficient in reading and 96 percent proficient in math.
Auke Bay Principal Dave Newton played down the scores. While the school has excellent teachers and bright students, the scores aren't accurately reflective of the number of students who need extra help, he said.
"My teachers looked at the test scores, and looked at the kids and said, 'I don't know how our kids scored this well.' I think it's a fluke," Newton said. "We have a lot of kids who are in need, and in some ways scores like this make it harder, because (they frame) what the expectations are."
At Gastineau Elementary, the lowest-scoring elementary school in the district, 68 percent of third graders passed reading, 48 percent passed writing and 66 percent passed math.
Assistant Superintendent Peggy Cowen said studies show students who score low are more often from low-income families, and more likely to hear non-standard English at home.
The only measure of student poverty is the free and reduced lunch program. Only 10 percent of Auke Bay students qualify for the program, while 30 percent, the highest in the district, qualify at Gastineau. The number of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch correlated to some extent with lower test scores in every Juneau school, Cowen said.
In Juneau, major language and cultural influences are Tlingit and, to a lesser extent, Filipino, Cowen said. Though the Juneau district score break-down by race hasn't been released, it is anticipated it will follow a statewide trend where the largest gap exists between white and Alaska Native students.
In the state, Alaska Native third graders scored 50 percent proficient in reading, 34 percent proficient in writing and 50 percent math, compared to white students who were 85 percent proficient in reading, 69 percent proficient in writing and 81 percent proficient in math.
Jackie Tagaban, education specialist for the Head Start program of the Tlingit-Haida Central Council, said the low scores at schools with more Native students indicate the Juneau school district could do more to help Natives.
"I strongly believe that our schools are not tapping into the way that Native children learn," she said. "Native students' failure to perform well on tests is really a reflection of society, not of the students ability to learn."
Cowen listed close to 20 programs in the district that target Native students, including a bilingual classroom at Harborview Elementary, and promised the district would do more.
"As a district we want to be clear about our responsibility for the success of all students and we don't want to make excuses for poverty and language," Cowen said. "We are trying to find strategies to make those students successful."
"It is easy to generalize and oversimplify these problems," said Ronalda Cadiente, co-chairwoman of the Indian Studies program in the Juneau School District. "We've got a good start with the Tlingit language program. I'd like to see a broader base of community input."
Cadiente said anyone who would like to be involved with Native educational strategies can call her at Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School at 586-5742.
Complete statewide benchmark test results are available online at the State Department of Education Web site: http://www.eed.state.ak.us/.
Julia O'Malley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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