SCHOOLS CHEER HIGH SCORES Math, Reading Levels Improve on State Tests

Article excerpt

Clay County students scored above average in math and reading

skills in a new statewide test designed to measure how well

Florida's public school teachers are applying state educational

standards.

The results of Florida's Comprehensive Assessment Test put Clay

ahead of most other Northeast Florida school districts this

week. The only exception was St. Johns County, which scored

slightly higher in all categories.

"Are we where we want to go? Absolutely not," said Walter

Brock, assistant superintendent for instruction. "We have a lot

of room to grow. But we are pleased . . ."

Out of Florida's 67 school districts, Clay County's math scores

earned the district a 10th place in fifth grade, ninth in eighth

grade and eighth in 10th grade. In reading, students placed 12th

in fourth grade, ninth in eighth grade and 19th in 10th grade.

The FCAT scores, which come on the heels of significant

improvements in the Florida Writes! test in Clay County, is

different from most tests in that it requires students to use

analysis and critical thinking skills, rather than rote

memorization, and explain how they arrive at their answers.

While many students had complained about how hard the test was

a few months ago, Schools Superintendent David Owens said, they

obviously were up to the challenge.

"We scored above the average in every category," he said. "But

that didn't take us totally by surprise."

The FCAT also was designed to measure teaching effectiveness

and hold schools accountable for student performance

based on the Sunshine State Standards, a set of educational

guidelines established in 1996 for all public schools in

Florida.

"This tests how well we are teaching the Sunshine State

Standards," Owens said. "One of the purposes of FCAT was to

identify low-performing schools and highperforming schools."

Since this year's test results establish the baseline data upon

which future exams will be compared, no lowor high-performing

schools can be identified until after students complete next

year's FCAT tests and the state determines what cutoff points

will be used, Brock said.

The main purpose of the test, Brock said, was "to raise

[academic] standards" in all grade levels.

The FCAT was given in January to students in fourth, fifth,

eighth and 10th grades. But how well they did was, to a great

degree, dependent on how well they were taught in earlier

grades, said Brock.

Fourth-graders were tested only in reading and fifth-graders

only in math, while students in eighth and 10th grades were

tested in both fields. Possible scores range from 100 to 500,

with the statewide average falling around 300.

The academic progress of individual students will be tracked

each year, using the FCAT scores as a baseline to assess their

progress, Owens and Brock said.

"This simply tells us how our students rate in ability to meet

the standards matched against other students in other

districts," Brock said.

Next week, parents will find out for themselves exactly how

their children did on the tests. Copies will be mailed to

parents on Tuesday, Brock said.

Owens visited Clay High School, his old campus when he was a

principal in 1996, after the FCAT was given in January and

talked with students about the exam.

"A lot of them said it was hard and that there was more writing

[than on other tests]," he said. "It took more thinking and

analysis."

But just because many students thought the test was hard

doesn't mean they had become lazy, academically speaking, Brock

said. …