City, county school leaders see improvements in math, science despite international averages
by Briana Webster
Nov 02, 2013 | 1165 views | 0 0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
According to articles last week on al.com and The Washington Post, eighth graders in Alabama scored below the international average in math and science.

The 2011 scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress test and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study test were used to compare a number of states with different countries.

The Post stated: “Mississippi, Alabama and District of Columbia students scored below the international average on both exams, meaning their scores were on par with Kazakhstan and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.” The study, performed by the National Center for Education Statistics, showed that Massachusetts was the highest performing state, but it still fell short behind Asian countries.

Walker County Schools Superintendent Jason Atkins and Jasper City Schools Assistant Superintendent Jean Lollar both said the local school systems’ eighth graders showed improvement in the areas of math and science.

Atkins said last year’s Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test scores showed that eighth graders from across the county system increased from 80 percent to 82 percent proficiency in a level three or four. There are four levels of achievement in the ARMT: Level one means a student does not meet academic standards; level two means a student partially meets academic standards; level three means a student meets academic standards (proficient or grade-level performance); and level four means a student exceeds academic standards.

“We improved from last year to this year, and we improved as a system in math in all grades, I feel like, because there’s such an emphasis on it. We implemented those college and career standards a year early to try to get ahead of the curve on all this reform that’s coming down the pipe,” Atkins said. “Math in particular is a place that we really feel like we can really improve the Walker County School System. We’ve been trying to do that from day one, even before college and career ready, but we have made improvements. We’re up two percentage points on the proficiency level of the ARMT test, which is the accountability measure.” 

According to the NAEP website, the test is voluntary for students and schools. However, it also states that “federal law also requires all states that receive Title I funds to participate in NAEP reading and mathematics assessments at fourth and eighth grades. Similarly, school districts that receive Title I funds and are selected for the NAEP sample are also required to participate in NAEP reading and mathematics assessments at fourth and eighth grades. All other NAEP assessments are voluntary.” 

Lollar of the city school district said Jasper City was not invited to participate in the NAEP this past year. She said when the schools would participate in NAEP that school officials never received any feedback, data or results from the testing. But, she did have good news on behalf of the city schools ARMT reports.

“For eighth grade this year they increased. They came up a percentile point from 84 percent last year to 85 percent this year. That’s 85 percent of the students in our eighth grade are proficient,” Lollar said. “... The Alabama Science Assessment is given in the seventh [grade]. That tells us how our eighth grades will enter, at what proficiency level. So, I can tell you at the beginning of this year in science our eighth-grade beginning students’ scores had come up from 86 percent proficiency to 89 in 2013.

“We feel like our eighth-grade students coming in this year were more ready than in previous years,” Lollar said. “We’re making progress.” 

Both Atkins and Lollar agree that the new standards in the College and Career Ready/Plan 2020 is a positive change for the two districts.

“We are specifically going through a revamping of the math curriculum with the common core, but I think that’s going to have a positive impact on it,” Atkins said.

“It will definitely help them with ASPIRE [Alabama’s newest summative assessment] because the new CCRS and the 2020 Plan is requesting that we teach more thinking skills, more cognitions involved, as far as students are concerned, more higher level thinking, more critical thinking and evidence,” Lollar said. “Evidence is huge with the new test and common core. ... Those are the advantages and that will in turn help to better prepare children for the ASPIRE because ASPIRE is ACT driven, and that is all higher level and critical thinking skills. I think it’s extremely advantageous.” 

Al.com reports that Alabama was among only six school systems in the United States to score below the international average in math and one of only three to score below the international average in science. Thirty six states scored above the international average in both math and science.

Atkins attributes the below average rankings to poverty levels throughout the state.

“The fault line in education is poverty. It’s not race; it’s poverty and the experiences and the parental influence that go into making an education successful,” Atkins said. “Two years running, the number one state in the nation for educational cuts in the budget is Alabama. They’ve cut the funding 28 percent, and that’s an atrocity.” 

However, Lollar and Atkins think that with the right teachers and instruction, both school districts will benefit and positively progress.

“There’s a lot of things fundamentally wrong that need to be changed for us to do better, but we’re doing the best we can with what we got,” Atkins said. “We can’t change the world, and we’re not responsible for making laws and the things down there that we can’t control, but we can improve the instructional process as best we can and that’s what we’re going to do.” 

“We were very pleased this year. One percentile point or one level of proficiency is huge, and that’s quite an accomplishment. Of course, we attribute this to our strong instructional program that we have,” Lollar said. “We look at what our teachers deliver; we attribute that to our curriculum and our alignment that we’ve worked so hard to achieve and our excellent teaching, instructional program and strong instructional leadership. It takes all of those, and strong parental involvement.

“It takes all of those components. It’s not just one thing that makes it happen; it’s a combined effort and a collective effort with everybody working together to make this happen.”