Thursday, July 03, 2014

TOP STORY >> Literacy scores: Good to poor

Leader staff writer

About 30 percent of the state’s seniors-to-be can’t read or write sufficiently enough to make it through school without significant help.

Those numbers are even worse at England, North Pulaski and Jacksonville high schools. But Jacksonville High has greatly improved, according to the state’s required 11th grade literacy test, despite having five principals in the past five years.

Cabot, Searcy and Lisa Academy North scored about a dozen points higher than the state average, while Lonoke was six points better than the rest of the state and Sylvan Hills High School was equal with the state.

The state education department recently posted the results of the annual assessment, which tests students’ ability to read, write and comprehend at grade level.

More than 32,000 juniors took the test across the state and 72 percent passed with scores landing in the proficient or advanced category. That leaves almost 30 percent in the basic or below basic category.

A student scoring advanced usually needs no help and is usually reading above grade level. Proficient means the student can handle grade level work.

A score of basic means the student needs help and assistance to complete grade level work and below-basic score means the student is in need of nearly constant assistance. In other words, they can’t do grade-level work on their own.

Lisa Academy had 89 percent of its juniors score proficient or better, meaning 11 percent can’t read or write at grade level without help.

Searcy High School came in with 85 percent of its students scoring proficient or advanced, while 13 percent were basic and 2 percent scored below basic.

Both Cabot High School and Cabot’s Academic Center for Excellence had 80 percent of their juniors pass the test with scores in the proficient or advanced category. Overall, 17 percent scored basic and 3 percent were below basic.

Lonoke High School was six points better than the state average with 78 percent of its juniors scoring proficient or advanced. Just 21 percent were basic and 1 percent scored below basic.

Beebe High School came in with 73 percent of its juniors making the cut, while 23 percent scored basic and 4 percent were below basic.

In the Pulaski County Special School District, 66 percent of the students made the proficient or advanced cut.

Locally, only Sylvan Hills High School surpassed that average with 72 percent of its juniors landing in the proficient or advanced categories. Almost 25 percent were basic and 4 percent were below basic.

Jacksonville matched the district average with 66 percent of its juniors scoring proficient or better. That still left 34 percent — about one-third of its juniors — with scores showing they can’t handle grade-level work.

But, on the upside, 66 percent is a 22-point swing from the 44 percent who scored proficient or better in 2013. In 2012, it was 45 percent. In 2011, just 37 percent made the cut.

Laura Bednar, PCSSD deputy superintendent, credited teachers for “rolling up their sleeves” for the big gains.

She said JHS has implemented a strong after-school program to help at-risk students as well as using other strategies and efforts to help students. “But you can’t discount the power of a motivated high-quality teacher,” she said.

Bednar was pleased with the gains but said Jacksonville High School isn’t stopping to rest on its laurels. “There is still improvement to be made and the team effort will continue,” she said.

At North Pulaski, 62 percent scored proficient or advanced, while 31 percent were basic and 7 percent were below basic.

At England High School almost half the juniors can’t handle grade level work, according to the test results that showed 52 percent scoring proficient or better and 48 percent not making the cut.

The literacy exam consists of three parts: reading, writing and grammar.

In the reading portion, students must read fiction, non-fiction or drama passages that are two to three pages in length and then answer eight multiple choice questions about the passage.

For writing, students are given a prompt and must write either an essay, letter or short story.

A prompt from a previous literacy exam was: “Your class has decided to leave a gift for your school when you graduate. You decide to write a letter to your principal suggesting one gift and giving reasons why it would be good for your school.”

The grammar or English portion of the exam consists of eight multiple choice questions testing the student’s ability to identify proper English usage.

Here are four examples, provided by the state department, from previous literacy exams:

• Which is generally associated with a persuasive essay?

A. supporting opinions with facts

B. engaging senses with sound devices

C. relating events in chronological order

D. communicating information through narration

(The answer is A)

• Which critique would be the most constructive response to a classmate’s writing?

A. This is good. I like your topic.

B. I think this is pretty bad. You need to redo it.

C. The introduction is interesting. I do not understand the rest.

D. The word choice is great. Develop the characterization more.

(The answer is D)

• Which sentence contains a verb acting as an adjective?

A. My class is going to a play next week.

B. The coach is hoping for a winning season.

C. Your teacher is offering an extra-credit assignment.

D. Our band is performing in the all-county competition.

(The answer is B)

• Which sentence is correct?

A. Before World War Two almost 33 Percent of the population lived in the country.

B. After arriving in Atlanta; we took a ten minute bus ride to visit the Aquarium on Locust street.

C. Getting my Yorkshire terrier ready for the American Kennel Club dog show, means brushing his teeth.

D. A high school course of study generally includes English, mathematics, social studies, and a foreign language.

(The answer is D)