Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

TOP STORY > >Literacy tests raise concern

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

As well as area students are doing in algebra and geometry, the opposite is true in literacy.

Recent test scores show 34 to 71 percent of area high school juniors donít have the literacy skills required to graduate. Based on the scores, three out of 10 Cabot juniors donít have the reading and writing skills they need and, even worse, seven out of 10 juniors at Jacksonville High School donít have the necessary literacy skills to be juniors.

Only 51 percent of the stateís juniors scored proficient or advanced in state-mandated tests. Scoring proficient or advanced means a student is at or above grade level in literacy.

All state high school students are given the literacy test, as part of the No Child Left Behind Act, in April of their junior year to assess their reading, writing and grammar skills. Based on scores, students are considered advanced, proficient, basic or below basic.

All students are supposed to be scoring advanced or proficient by the end of the 2013-2014 school year according to federal mandates.

No school is at 100 percent yet. The Arkansas School of Mathematics and Science in Hot Springs is 99 percent proficient or better, followed by Taylor High School in the Emerson School District, at 87 percent proficient or better.

Dr. Ken James, commissioner of education, said, ďIím glad that we still have more than half of our students scoring proficient and above, but we know there are tweaks we need to make to improve literacy scores.Ē

Julie Thompson, a spokesman for the state Education Department, said the literacy scores are not where they should be nationwide.

ďItís an unfortunate trend,Ē she said. The stateís Education Department is not only looking at the test, but also the instruction.

ďIt seems we stop teaching reading in the elementary school and it needs to continue through,Ē Thompson said.

Locally, Cabot High School juniors did the best, followed by Beebe and Searcy. On the other end were Jacksonville, Carlisle and North Pulaski high schools.

Of the 539 Cabot juniors tested, 66 percent scored proficient or advanced, meaning that 193 Cabot juniors, a year away from graduation, are not reading or writing at grade level.

In both Beebe and Searcy, 61 percent of the juniors scored proficient or better. After Beebe and Searcy, the scores fall dramatically.

Lonoke only had 47 percent of its juniors score proficient or advanced, meaning 73 of the schoolís 141 juniors are not on grade level in literacy.

At Cabotís Academic Center for Excellence, just 47 percent of the juniors are proficient and none are advanced. Of Sylvan Hill High Schoolís 221 juniors, only 45 percent scored proficient or advanced, and at North Pulaski, just 37 percent of the juniors were proficient or better.

Of the 245 juniors at Jackson-ville High School, only 29 percent are proficient or advanced, meaning that 175 juniors, or about three-fourths, are lacking in literacy skills.