Del Norte students improve in social studies and science

Del Norte County Unified School District made gains in social studies and science but stayed relatively stagnant in language arts and math, according to recently released test results that reflect year one of its new education model.

Local officials say they're happy with the results despite remaining largely status quo during the 2012andndash;13 school year. A dip in test scores is to be expected after implementing a new curriculum, they say. The district implemented the first phase of its Del Norte Engaged Learning Model at the start of the 2012andndash;13 school year, focusing on greater teacher and administrator collaboration.

The California Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) released last week show the results of annual academic testing at California public schools. Roughly 4.7 million students in grades two through 11 took the test last spring. Students attain one of five levels of performance: advanced, proficient, basic, below basic and far below basic.

Scores that land in the top two categories - proficient and advanced - are considered satisfactory. Students were tested in English, history, math and science.

The district's overall language arts score decreased by one percentage point while its math score increased by less than a percentage point, said Steve Godla, assistant superintendent of instruction and educational services.

Second graders' performance in language arts dropped by 9 percentage points in 2012andndash;13, Godla said. Language arts scores decreased slightly at the fourth- and fifth-grade level and dropped by 7 percentage points at the sixth-grade level, he said. But language arts scores increase at the eighth-, ninth-, 10th- and 11th-grade levels, Godla said.

"Once kids get into the seventh-grade we were above the state average by a percent," he said. "And in eighth-grade we were four percent above the state average. Once again when we get up in the middle school the scores are pretty good."

The school district's overall math score stayed largely the same due to a dip in geometry scores, Godla said. The reason for the decrease may be because the district did not hire a teacher until after the first quarter.

"We had a teacher that didn't work out and then we had a sub for about seven or eight weeks and then we brought in a new teacher," he said. "The geometry scores didn't surprise me."

Godla said he also suspected that 2012andndash;13 would be a challenging year for math scores at the high school because two teachers became data coaches and another took a personal leave of absence. He said he's happy with the improvement even if it is only slight.

The district's overall science scores increased by more than 5 percentage points, Godla said. Roughly 84 percent of the students at Crescent Elk Middle School scored proficient or advanced in science, he said.

The district's overall history scores also increased from 39 percent in 2012 to 51.2 percent last year, Godla said. U.S. History test scores at the high school level went up by 19 percentage points, which is 7 percent above the state average, he said.

"We had been around 33, 36, 37 and 38 (percent) for the last five years and then all of a sudden we're at 57 percent," Godla said. "We're very pleased with that."

Godla gave a presentation before the Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees on Thursday, saying that overall the district's test scores have improved.

Board member Lori Cowan said the dip in test scores wasn't as bad as she thought they would be.

"My understanding is, when we implement something, not to be afraid of a big dip (in test scores)," she said. "These scores aren't as bad as the dips I saw in other scores."

Overall test scores at Uncharted Shores Academy, one of three charter schools in Del Norte, have also stayed roughly the same as last year, said Educational Director Margie Rouge. Teachers at Uncharted Shores introduced new math and language arts curricula to align with the state's new Common Core standards. Students in the younger grades - second through fourth - improved in math while the upper grades struggled.

"Language arts was not as good," Rouge said. "We wanted to go up, but we really didn't show an improvement this year."

Test scores weren't available for grades second, third, fifth, seventh and eighth at Uncharted Shores due to the number of students who tested being less than 10, according to the California Department of Education.

According to Bernadette Johnson, director of Klamath River Early College of the Redwoods, 23 percent of KRECR students scored in the proficient or advanced category for English and 31 percent scored in the proficient or advanced categories for math.

Math proficiency at KRECR is up by 11.11 percent from last year, Johnson said in an e-mail Wednesday, while English dropped from 45 percent to 23 percent.

"We will also be analyzing our data to inform our academic strategic plan for 2013-14. Our long-term goal is that 80 percent or more of our students will be proficient in math and English. We hope to reach 50 percent or more in 2013andndash;14," Johnson said.

Johnson added that the California state test format doesn't easily match up with KRECR's model, in which students in the same grade level are often working on different subjects and at different subject levels. This means the tests students are required to take may not assess what they are learning in the year they are tested, she said.