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Students in state top mark in math

But test scores lag in other skills by Cynthia Howell | August 26, 2012 at 4:23 a.m.

— A majority of Arkansas students in grades one through nine exceeded the national average on the math section of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills this spring but didn’t do as well on the reading and language-arts sections.

Fifth- and sixth-graders as a group scored below the 50th percentile — the national average — in reading. Third-, seventh- and eighth-graders similarly scored below the nation on the language-arts portion of the test.

Still, Arkansas students overall did as well or better in 2012 as compared with results from 2011 on the test that gives educators, policymakers and parents a sense of whether Arkansas students are adequately prepared to compete nationally for future jobs.

The nationally standardized Iowa test compares the achievement of Arkansas students with a national sample of students who took the same test.

The math results from this spring ranged from the 50th percentile at ninth grade to the 62nd percentile in the fourth grade, meaning that Arkansas pupils scored better than 62 percent of testtakers nationally.

The Iowa reading results from this spring ranged from the 47th percentile in fifth and sixth grades — unchanged from 2011 results — to the 60th percentile in second grade.

In language arts, the results ranged from the 47th percentile in third and seventh grades to the 61st percentile in first grade. Science was tested in fifth and seventh grades only. Fifth-graders scored at the 61st percentile, and seventh-graders scored at the 62nd percentile.

“We continue to be proud of the work our teachers are doing in the classrooms to improve student performance,” Arkansas Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell said.

“Despite the challenges we face and the work we still have to do, there’s a lot going right in our public schools,” he added.

The grade-by-grade and subject-by-subject results for each Arkansas school and school district are on the Arkansas Department of Education website: test-scores/year?y=2012.

The Office for Education Policy at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville does an annual analysis of the Iowa test results.

“We found slight gains,” Gary Ritter, professor of education and public policy as well as director of the education-policy office, said Friday about the Iowa test. “On a test like this, any gains indicate better-than-average learning.”

As part of its analysis, the education-policy office calculates a single percentile ranking for each school, for each district and for the state — all based on the grade-by-grade percentile rankings for the school, district or the state.

According to the policyoffice calculations, Arkansas students in first through ninth grades showed improvement, rising from the 51st percentile overall in 2011 to the 54th percentile in 2012.

Broken down by subject area, the language results increased from the 50th percentile to the 52nd between 2011 and 2012, according to the policy-office data.

The percentile ranking in math increased from the 56th to the 57th percentile, and the reading result remained steady at the 52nd percentile. The state’s overall percentile ranking for science also was unchanged at the 61st percentile.

“On average we were above,” Ritter said of the Arkansas and national averages. “Some grades were not, and that is important to note, but on average, overall, we were above the 50th percentile.

“That’s not bad in a state where our poverty level and our socioeconomic challenges are bigger than average,” he continued. “We know that the challenges associated with poverty are influential. They matter.”

An online spreadsheet produced by the Office for Education Policy lists the percentile ranking calculations for schools and school districts.

The spreadsheets also show the percentage of students in the school and district who are eligible for subsidized school meals. That percentage is an indication of the amount of poverty at the campus or in the district.

Little Rock School District students overall scored at the 43rd percentile, 11 points below the state average of the 54th percentile, according to the Office for Education Policy’s data. The Little Rock district is the state’s largest district with about 25,000 students, 71 percent of whom are eligible for free and reducedprice school meals.

There are high-performing schools within the Little Rock district. Williams Magnet Elementary — with 45 percent of students eligible for subsidized meals — scored at the 74th percentile and Forest Park Elementary scored at the 80th percentile.

North Little Rock School District students — 66 percent of whom are eligible for subsidized meals — scored at the 46th percentile. The Pulaski County Special School District — where 54 percent are eligible for subsidized school meals — scored at the 49th percentile.

Elsewhere in the state, Fayetteville School District scored at the 66th percentile. Springdale scored at the 52nd percentile, Jonesboro scored at the 46th percentile and the Lakeside School District based in Lake Village scored at the 42nd percentile, according to the Office for Education Policy. The Pine Bluff School District scored at the 31st percentile, Texarkana at the 46th and Harrison at the 68th percentile.

The test score calculations are available at the Office for Education Policy website:

About 35,000 students in each grade take the nationally standardized Iowa Test of Basic Skills each spring.

In grades three through eight, the Iowa test questions are blended with the Arkansas Benchmark Exam, which is a measure of student mastery of Arkansas education standards.

Front Section, Pages 1 on 08/26/2012

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