Test scores: widening gap or bridge to future success?

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By Meaghan Downs

The word “gap” elicits two images when tied with measuring educational success.
1. An impassable gulf.
2. A sliver of space easily closed.
Let’s talk about what “gap” really means.
The Kentucky Department of Education recently released the test scores of its new assessment model, and Anderson County’s data indicated some seemingly contradictory results.
Students — especially elementary students taking K-PREP — performed extremely well on new standardized tests in science (this subject test did not include the new rigorous standards, administrators said), math, reading, language mechanics, social studies and writing.
But those kids who struggle, who don’t traditionally test as well as other students for a multitude of reasons, well, they’re still struggling in Anderson County.
According to the Kentucky Department of Education, the “gap” category combines the results for African-American, Hispanic, Native American, special education, low-income (free and reduced lunch students) and limited English proficiency students into one “gap group” and compares those test results to their non “gap group” peers.
Here’s a quick look at how “gap” students in the high school fared:  
• 21.2 percent scored proficient/distinguished in math, 6.7 percent lower than the state average
• 31.8 percent scored proficient/distinguished in reading, 6.6 percent lower than the state average  
• 35.1 percent scored proficient/distinguished in language mechanics, 3.5 percent lower than the state average
Students posted scores higher than the state in two subject areas, writing and social studies:
• 32.9 percent scored proficient/distinguished in writing, 1.4 percent higher than the state average
• 30.6 percent tested proficient/distinguished in social studies, 4.3 percent higher than the state average
Despite the higher-than-the-state averages for writing and social studies, these gap scores are worrisome, especially given the fact that 62.1 percent of all high school students, including gap groups, are considered to be college and career-ready.
Anderson County High School was the only school in the district to earn the recognition of “Focus School,” meaning it ranked in the bottom 10 percent for its low scores among individual gap groups.
This may be confusing because the high school also earned a “proficient” rating, placing ACHS in the top 24 percent of all high schools across the state.  
Being labeled “Proficient,” according to KDE language, is based on how much improvement is needed to reach a goal of 100, and measures multiple categories: achievement, college and career readiness, as well as gap reduction.
Being labeled a “focus school” narrows on just gap scores; being “proficient” takes into account scores in several categories, both the higher scores of achievement and college/career-readiness, as well as the lower gap results.
When I spoke to Instructional Supervisor Sharon Jackman and Superintendent Sheila Mitchell about low gap scores, they said they were confident in the three-year school improvement plans to help close the gap.
Jackman said those who didn’t make a year’s growth (those who fell into the bottom 60 percent) will be monitored, based on MAP test scores given three times a year.
I don’t doubt their intentions for increased intervention, but I’m curious to see if that will translate to improved scores for these struggling “gap” students failing to meet proficiency.  
No one wants to allow the gap to widen to a chasm students cannot cross.

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