Switzerland County schools have become accustomed to posting excellent test scores on Indiana’s ISTEP standardized tests, and with some of the results now in from the state, that trend is continuing.
The excellence continues particularly at the third grade level, where both Jefferson-Craig Elementary and Switzerland County Elementary have earned reputations as two of the best elementary schools in the nation. Both earned “Four Star” School awards this past year; and after Jefferson-Craig earned the National Blue Ribbon Award last year, Switzerland County Elementary has been nominated this year.
The state’s ISTEP test is broken down into two main categories: language arts and math, with those two subjects then being splintered into different subcategories of specific focus.
At the third grade level, Switzerland County students averaged a 90 on the language arts portion of the test, a full 15 points over the state average of 75. In math, the Switzerland County average was a 93, 20 points better than the state average of 73.
The sixth grade students at Switzerland County Middle School struggled a bit in math, but still posted above average scores in language arts.
In language arts, the Switzerland County sixth grade average was a 74, above the state average of 70; but Switzerland County’s average of 65 in math was 10 points below the state benchmark of 75.
At the eighth grade level, students here were six points above the state average in language arts, 73-67; and were nine points, 80-71, above the state average in math.
“Overall the scores were pretty good,” superintendent Tracy Caddell said. “I believe that the third and eighth grade will be above the state average, but I’m uncertain about the sixth grade.”
Writing applications has been a point of emphasis for all four schools this year, with teachers in all subject areas being encouraged to have students write as a part of the classwork. That focus really seemed to pay off with the ISTEP, as students at all grade levels did well on the writing portion of the test.
At Switzerland County Elementary School, principal Elizabeth Jones and her staff were very pleased with the scores.
“We were extremely pleased with our results,” Dr. Jones said. “We took a lot of time testing the students, and we tried to test them under the very best conditions. We think that had a big impact on our scores this year.”
Dr. Jones said that the state allows elementary schools a two-week window to give the tests, and although a school could finish in three or four days, Switzerland County Elementary took the entire two weeks, testing students one hour in the morning each day until the testing was completed.
“We tested in as small of groups as possible,” she said. “We also tested in as slow a time as possible. We tested in the morning when students were fresh, and only tested one hour a day. We think that allowed the students to recharge their batteries between tests.”
Dr. Jones said that the school also made sure that there were ample adults in the room while the testing was going on.
At Switzerland County Elementary School, the third graders averaged a score of 84 in language arts (nine above the state average); and averaged 91 on the math portion (18 above the state average).
“Our math scores remained high,” Dr. Jones said. “Sometimes that’s a difficult area for students. Our highest scoring area in math was problem solving, and that speaks to the students understanding the problem and how to decipher the problem. We had 93 percent of our students show mastery in problem solving, and 91 percent show mastery in algebra.”
Jefferson-Craig Elementary School again recorded outstanding test scores at the third grade level, continuing a trend of several years.
“In general we’re pleased that we have been consistent over the past few years,” Principal Darrell Hansel said. “In general, our third grade scores are better this year than last year.”
Darrell Hansel said that almost all of the areas on the test were excellent, with students consistently above the 95 percentile in language arts; and overall the average was a 98.
At Jefferson-Craig Elementary School, the third graders averaged a score of 98 in language arts (23 above the state average); and averaged 96 on the math portion (21 above the state average).
“Math scores continue to hold pretty steady,” Darrell Hansel said. “We were up about two percent over last year’s score — which is outstanding. Overall we are very pleased with how our students are achieving.”
Darrell Hansel said that the school is still waiting for scores from fourth and fifth grade testing that was done at the school; and when those figures are in, he and his staff will sit down and again put together a school improvement plan based on all of the testing results.
“We always want to see if there are ways to do better,” the principal said.
Switzerland County Middle School has two grade levels to administer the ISTEP test to: sixth and eighth graders; and the scores that have come back are sending mixed signals for the staff.
At the sixth grade level, students failed to meet the state average in math; and although the language arts average dropped from last year’s scores, it was above the state average.
“The sixth grade math scores weren’t where we would have liked them to be,” Principal Candis Haskell said. “The biggest area where students didn’t do well was in problem solving, so that’s an area that we’re going to have to focus on. They did the best in data analysis and probability, so we’re happy with that.”
Probability is looking at problems such as: “You put three oranges and two apples in a bag, what is the probability that you will pull an orange out of the bag?”; while data analysis involves the students interpreting charts and graphs to find answers.
Last year’s sixth grader averaged a 76 in math, but that dropped to a 65 this year.
In language arts, the middle school didn’t see too big of a drop in scores, going from a 76 last year to a 74 this year.
“That could be the difference in one person moving in or one person moving out,” Candis Haskell said. “There is a concern, but the scores are very similar.”
Candis Haskell said that the sixth graders did the best in the writing process; while vocabulary was the lowest.
At the eighth grade level, the principal said that those scores were a real highlight.
“I’m so proud of them,” Candis Haskell said.
In language arts, eighth grade scores rose from a 65 last year to a 73 this year; and in math the scores rose from a 67 up to an 80.
In language arts, the students excelled in writing applications; while they scored the lowest on reading comprehension.
In math, there were four areas where the students scored very high: number sense, geometry, algebra, and functions; and data analysis and probability also saw high scores. The lowest scores came in computation and measurement.
Candis Haskell said that the number of children who scored at the highest level (called ISTEP+) went up everywhere in every grade level. The biggest jump was in math, where the number went from eight percent up to 17 percent.
Scores on the 10th grade Graduation Qualifying Exam (GQE) won’t be in until March 1st, but high school principal Derek Marshall and director of guidance Denise Loaring both said that preliminary test results coming in for students who are juniors and seniors but have not yet passed the GQE are encouraging.
“We’ve seen a lot of improvement in the kids,” Derek Marshall said of those undergoing retakes. “When you look at the students individually, they all made progress.”
“Almost all of the scores went up from the last time they took the test,” Denise Loaring said. “Not all of the kids passed it yet, but their scores are going up, and that’s encouraging.”
Derek Marshall said that one of the biggest obstacles at the high school level with the GQE exam is that there are only three days set aside by the state for the test to be given.
“At the elementary schools and middle schools, the state gives two weeks to administer the test,” Derek Marshall said. “If a student misses a portion of the test due to absence, they can make it up at some point during the two weeks. At the high school, there’s only three days and you have to be here, if you miss a day of testing, you automatically fail that portion.”
In fact, Derek Marshall and Denise Loaring said if a student misses the first day of testing for the GQE, he or she automatically fails the entire test. Students must pass both a math and language arts portion in order to receive their diploma under state law.
“Isn’t it amazing that the state says that practice, practice, practice makes perfect, and at the elementary levels that’s what the state does?” Derek Marshall said. “But at the high school level, the state says, ‘you have three days to pass this test or you don’t get a diploma’. Isn’t that amazing?”
Derek Marshall said that freshmen also took the ninth grade test this year, and those scores are expected on March 1st as well. Once the school and staff receives those scores, then procedures will be put in place to help students with areas in which they are struggling.