By Nate Smith
The Washington Times-Herald
Local schools said they improved on the 2013 ISTEP test as results were released Wednesday by the state Department of Education.
Overall, corporation passing rates were above or close to state averages for every local public and private school that took the important state exam for grades three to eight. Across the state, 79.5 percent of students passed the language arts portion and 82.7 percent of students passed the math part of the ISTEP. For both tests, 73.5 percent of students statewide passed both tests.
Washington schools reported improvement in ISTEP scores from the previous year, especially in language arts. Washington Assistant Superintendent Paul White said language arts scores went up by 5 percent corporation-wide from previous years.
“After our initial review of the scores, we are pretty pleased,” White said.
Some of the standout results from the spring test include then-fourth, now-fifth grade at Veale Elementary. The class had 94 percent pass both portions of the test. North Elementary had three testing groups with over 90 percent passing rates, but one of the brightest spots was at Lena Dunn Elementary.
The school, although below state averages, saw significant improvements in testing scores from a year before. In 2012, 63 percent of Lena Dunn’s fourth-grade class passed the language arts test. in 2013, the fourth grade saw 78 percent of the students pass, a 15-percent jump.
“Lena Dunn really worked hard last year and it appears it has begun to help,” White said.
Washington Junior High School had math passing percentages above state averages but language arts were slightly below. White hopes for more improvement at Lena Dunn and other schools with the implementation of a major writing initiative this year.
“We’re pleased. It’s definitely one of those things where we don’t want to be satisfied,” White said. “We are very proud of our staff.”
Washington Catholic, the only private school in the area to take the ISTEP, continued to have a strong showing on the test. All grade groups were above state passing averages except for eighth-grade math. In WC’s fourth grade, all the students passed the math portion of the test and 96 percent of the students passed the language arts portion. Many passing averages at WC were above the 90-percent mark.
WC Principal Karie Craney said the “students and staff have worked really hard to improve test scores over the past year.”
“We were pleased to see improvements in our scores,” Craney said.
For Barr-Reeve schools, the bar has always been set high for ISTEP scores and both the elementary and junior high schools again scored well. All passing percentages were above state levels but for two groups, fourth-grade math and fifth-grade language arts. Those two were very close to the state average.
Several of Barr-Reeve’s peer score groups were in the 90 percent-passing rate or over. The third, fourth and seventh grades saw over 90 percent passing rates.
Barr-Reeve Superintendent Travis Madison said:”We are happy in a lot of areas. Our goal is to have all our students reach a passing level but we are realistic and we are going to look at the individual student growth model to see how each individual student did as well. We’ll take that information and see how we can help our students achieve even more.”
At North Daviess, passing rates were close to state averages across both the elementary and the junior high school. A high spot was the elementary’s then-sixth grade class, who had 90 percent of its students pass both the math and language arts tests. In the junior high, only one test, eighth-grade language arts, was below the state average.
North Daviess Junior/Senior High Principal Jed Jerrels said he was pleased and the scores showed improvement. Elementary Principal Jodi Berry said they were pleased with scores overall.
“When tracking each level as a cohort graduating class, all but one academic area increased,” Berry said.
In Martin County, Loogootee schools experienced few lows but also few highs in its ISTEP scores. Loogootee elementary had all of its testing grades above state averages for grades three and four. The intermediate school had one group, sixth-grade language arts, below passing average, but the junior high school had three of its four testing groups slightly below the state mark.
Loogootee Assistant Superintendent Mike Tippery said the school was pleased to see a rise in the language arts scores, especially after a couple years of low passing rates.
“Overall, our language arts scores were two percent higher than the state’s,” Tippery said. “I do like the direction we are going.”
Shoals schools saw a pattern of high math rates at the elementary level, but found language arts passing rates were below state averages. The junior high registered low passing rates, but are improving from previous years.
“We’ve seen improvement,” Shoals Superintendent Joan Keller said. “We’re going in the right direction.”
While not unusual in the past but given recent events, Otwell Elementary school in Pike County had the best ISTEP passing scores in all area schools. All of Otwell’s students from third to fifth grade passed the math portion of the exam and all but two students passed the language arts test. Otwell’s passing rate for language arts was 97.5 percent.
The Pike County School Board recently dismissed Otwell’s principal, Rick Fears, over allegations of substandard teacher evaluations and attendance manipulation. Fears and his attorney Mark Phillips denied the charges and said they plan to sue the school board for wrongful dismissal. Fears was principal at the time during the 2013 ISTEP.
There were successes at the other Pike County schools as well. Third graders at Winslow Elementary had a 100 percent passing rate in language arts and 92 percent passed the math portion. Other grades at Winslow and Petersburg elementary were near the state averages and Pike Central Middle School had three of four test grades above average.
Lindsay Owens contributed to this story