Back-to-school is a good time for school districts to implement new curriculum, especially if it will improve student test scores on the SAT.
Most students in Canyon County this year failed to meet college-readiness benchmarks on the SAT, a national college admissions test.
Nearly every district in Canyon County, including Nampa, Caldwell and Vallivue, showed scores that were below the state and national averages.
One bright spot, though, was the Notus school district, which scored not only above state and national averages for math, but the district also exceeded state and national levels for college readiness.
District leaders are already promising to work to improve curriculum to boost math scores, the area most districts under-performed.
“I don't think we're any different from districts around us," said Nicole MacTavish, assistant superintendent for the Nampa school district. "We are all worried about our math scores."
The SAT is composed of two parts: a math part and reading and writing part.
The national average SAT score for reading and writing was 498.
Idaho's average for reading and writing was 509.
All but two districts in Canyon County fell below state and national averages for reading and writing, ranging from 493 in Vallivue down to 463 in Caldwell.
For the math portion, the national average was 486.
Idaho's average math score was 490.
In Canyon County, scores ranged from 445 in Caldwell to 482 in Middleton.
The College Board has determined that a score of 510 on math and 480 on the reading and writing test means that student will be ready for college.
College readiness means a student has a 75 percent chance of getting a C or better in first-year college courses, according to the College Board.
According to this year's results, only 34 percent of the test takers nationwide had a score that showed them to be college-ready in math.
For reading and writing, 56 percent of test-takers nationally met the reading and writing benchmark for college readiness.
Statewide, 35 percent met the benchmark for math college readiness and 62 percent for reading and writing college readiness.
“Overall, this is a positive for Idaho and the work being done in our schools,” Matt Freeman, executive director of the Idaho State Board of education said in a press release announcing the results this summer. “As we review the data, it shows that we have more work to do, particularly in math, but we are trending in the right direction.”
In Canyon County, Middleton school district had the highest percentage of student test-takers meeting the reading benchmark (60 percent). Notus had the highest in math (47 percent).
However, most Canyon County districts were below these percentages.
In Nampa, 55 percent of students met the reading and writing benchmark for college readiness, compared to 56 percent nationwide and below the state's 62 percent.
Nampa's average scores were 462 in math, 489 in reading and writing, both below the state averages.
Still, MacTavish said the district was pleased with reading and writing scores.
She said that a team of teachers has been working together for two years to incorporate a new English Language Arts curriculum across all grades.
“It's exciting to watch a group of educators come together and improve instruction so much based on the data they have about their kids, based on their collaborative efforts, based on creating curriculum and doing assessments together," MacTavish said. "Hard work has paid off for English Language Arts in Nampa.”
Math is next to receive curriculum changes. In math, 24 percent of students met the benchmark for college readiness; 35 percent of the state met the benchmark. Nationally, only 34 percent of students met the math benchmark.
MacTavish said a new math curriculum is being implemented.
"Mathematics is an area where we haven't grown as fast as we have in English Language Arts, but we also haven't put the time or resources or professional development into mathematics at this point — (compared to what) we have (done) in English Language Arts, because we were doing a curriculum adoption for English Language Arts," MacTavish said.
Jodie Mills, director of federal programs for the Caldwell school district, said the district has its work cut out for them.
Only 16 percent of SAT test-takers met the math benchmark, which was the lowest percentage in Canyon County; 37 percent met reading and writing benchmarks.
“There are no excuses,” Mills said. “We need to do a better job of preparing our students to be ready to take the test and understanding the test.”
Mills said the scores have improved over the years due to curriculum adjustments, particularly in math. Rather than teach exclusive areas, like algebra and geometry, at each grade level, the district is taking a more holistic approach to teaching math.
Mills also said she is pleased the SAT itself is more comprehensive, combining different math areas and testing the students' ability to apply the areas to "real world problems."
Like Nampa, Mills said the district will look at specific problems students got wrong and analyze why they got it wrong. This will influence how teachers instruct in math, as well as reading and writing.
“We need to identify where we are deficient and address it,” Mills said. “We are taking this incredibly seriously.”
A similar approach will be taken to reading and writing.
“Thirty-seven percent is not representative of our juniors,” Mills said. “What we're seeing in the classrooms is, unfortunately, not what the results show.”
The Vallivue school district is already working to improve its scores, according to district superintendent Pat Charlton.
In this district, 23 percent of test takers met the math benchmark; 56 percent met reading and writing.
Vallivue's average math score was 463; its average reading and writing score was 493.
“We're a little disappointed in our math score,” Charlton said. “It's caused us to take a look at our math curriculum.”
Charlton said the district found that elementary school students are doing well in math, but once they get to high school, their performance drops. Now that the test involves more problem solving through critical thinking, this is an area the district will work to improve.
While SAT scores have their place in showing how college-ready a student is, Charlton emphasizes it is not the be-all/end-all indicator.
“We don't want to put too much emphasis on one test,” Charlton said. “We use a multitude of assessments (for college readiness), such as how many AP classes a student is taking.”
The highest-scoring Canyon County district was Notus, a small district of about 410 students in a rural part of the county between Caldwell and Parma.
Notus school district staff said they were pleased with the results. About 47 percent of test takers met the math college readiness benchmark. This is the highest percentage meeting the benchmark of the Canyon County districts.
Fifty-nine percent met the reading and writing benchmark.
District staff feel the students excelled in answering "real-world problems." Part of that is attributed to their GEAR UP grant that provided extra support for the students, according to superintendent Craig Woods and secondary counselor Lorrie Houston.
About six years ago, the state provided federal money through a Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness For Undergraduate Programs grant to Notus' seventh-grade students.
Support services like before- and after-school tutoring, additional technology and math support have been provided to these students and followed them up through the grade levels, Woods said. He said many of Notus' students have utilized these resources.
A third math teacher was hired, and all three have put extra time in preparing students for experiences like taking the SAT.
Woods also said parental support has increased in this group of students. Woods said all the above factors likely contributed to Notus' scores.
“It's a different group of kids, but they are all kind of geared toward education past high school," Woods said. "Most are thinking, 'I have got to get more training past high school.' And that is what the GEAR UP program is about."
Despite his enthusiasm for the percentage of student test takers who met the benchmark, Woods acknowledged the district's results could be skewed due to the small number of students who took the test and the aid they received through the GEAR UP grant.
Thirty-one students took two tests, the SAT and the COMPASS, which is commonly taken by students pursuing career technical paths after high school. Seventeen of those students took only the SAT.
“Being small enough to still service each and every one of those kids on an individual basis is big," Woods said.
IDAHO STUDENTS EXCEED NATIONAL AVERAGES
The Idaho State Board of Education issued a press release June 27 praising Idaho students for exceeding average national scores.
Thirty-three percent of Idaho students met both math and reading and writing college readiness benchmarks. The nation's average for meeting both benchmarks was 32 percent.
The new test better aligns with Idaho Core Standards, also known as Common Core, adopted by many states, according to the release, and better gauges a student's future success by measuring what they learned in high school, what they need to know to be successful in college.
Source: Idaho Press-Tribune