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Long Beach test scores on the rise

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Long Beach test scores continue to trend up on state English Language Arts and math exams for grades three to eight, according to results released by the state Education Department in August.

The state marks students who score at Level 3 or 4 as proficient on an exam. To achieve Level 3, students must score a 65 or more.

According to recent results, 58 percent, or 421 of 726 students who took the math exam, scored at Level 3 or 4, which was consistent with last year’s test results.

Meanwhile, 53 percent, or 414 of 786 students who took the ELA exam, scored at a proficient level, a 4 percent increase over last year. Compared with statewide averages of 45 percent proficiency in ELA and 47 percent in math, Long Beach students scored above the norm, school officials said at a Sept. 10 Board of Education meeting.

The biggest improvements came on the fourth- and fifth-grade ELA scores. The passing rate on the fourth-grade ELA exam went from 56 percent to 64 percent, while the rate on the fifth-grade ELA test jumped from 36 percent to 55 percent.

The school board discussed the test scores and other student evaluations at its Sept. 10 meeting, at which school officials presented student data that included Regents scores. Officials said the district, overall, is heading in the right direction with new programs, curriculum enhancements and a 98 percent graduation rate at the high school.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Gallagher attributed the recent rise in elementary ELA and math test results to the WRaP initiative, a program established last year that replaced traditional homework with required reading for students in grades kindergarten to five. She added that the new focus on reading has also benefited the children’s math scores.

“In addition to the incredible growth in achievement this year, we have heard many anecdotal stories of reluctant readers becoming excited readers,” Gallagher said in an email last month. “If that shift continues, and more students begin to love reading, our scores will soar. We have also heard from parents that WRaP has eliminated the stress factor from homework, allowing parents to do more engaging learning experiences with their children.”

School Board President Maureen Vrona also praised the WRaP program, and agreed with Gallagher that students have seen an increase in their ELA and math scores because of the focus on literacy.

Although the test scores improved, Gallagher and board members acknowledged that about 50 percent of students opted out of the exams in the spring, which is a 2 percent increase from last year.

“Yes, that definitely influences our scores, though we’d have to really analyze the profile of students opting out at each level to be sure of the impact,” Gallagher said.

Vrona said that the test scores do not accurately represent student progress due to the large number of students who opt out of the tests.

The opt-out rate is notable, according to the recent results, in the eight-grade math assessment, with only 35 students choosing to take the test, and two of them placing at Level 3 or above. Last year, 45 students took the exam, and one student scored at Level 3, according to the state data.

“Personally I don’t look at the state tests anymore because, statistically, they’re not helpful to us,” Vrona said. “When you have a 50 percent opt-out rate, you can’t use them for anything. The only value they have for us now is looking at individual students’ scores.”

(Correction: In the print version of this article the word levels was misspelled in the caption of the chart. We regret the error.)