June 22, 2001

The good news is that there was some improvement in academic performance by public school students; the bad news is that, on average, only about two-thirds of them are meeting state standards. That is so both statewide and in the Brandywine and Red Clay districts.

"It's not time to hit the panic button yet," Secretary of Education Valerie Woodruff said on June 20 as she handed over to the public her system's report card. "We're seeing some growth, but we're not where we want to be. ... We're moving, but let's keep at it."

"One thing that is absolutely clear from these numbers is that we're doing better," said Governor Ruth Ann Minner who said her aim is "to see to it that every child does just a little bit better than they did on the last test" and pledged support from her administration to achieve that goal.

The numbers -- results of the annual state testing program -- showed some slippage in reading, modest gains in

mathematics and marked improvement in writing. That is based on a comparison of the portion of students meeting or exceeding state standards in those subjects this year when compared to last. Scores varied over the four grades -- third, fifth, eighth and tenth -- that take the tests, but the general pattern was essentially the same with state and district numbers.

If any alarms were tripped by this year's testing it was in reading scores turned in by third-graders. There was a statistically measurable drop across individual schools and the districts.

That subject is universally regarded as the key to all learning and proficiency acquired in primary grades is considered essential for future academic achievement. At the presentation of test results, Woodruff reminded Minner that the governor had neglected to include in her remarks a favorite catchphrase: We learn to read so that we can read to learn.

Test results are considered a measure of the public school education reform program initiated in

Education secretary Valerie Woodruff uses flip charts to present some of the student assessment results.

1995. This is the fourth year that the assessment tests have been given. State law provides that results of the testing next spring will determine which children have to attend and pass summer school in order to be promoted and will be a major factor in deciding what level of diploma is issued upon high school graduation.

If the summer school requirement were in effect this year, 4,700 students, or one of every seven who took the test, would be back in the classroom as summer comes in.

In a sense, that mirrors the adage that, although the politicians bring on the wars, it's the kids who have to fight them. State-directed testing largely was implemented as a way to measure how well teachers and the public school education establishment are getting across the material necessary to meet curriculum standards established by the system.

Minner referred to that indirectly when she said the testing is part of a program to assure that the state's young people are "ready to meet the rigorous demands of the business world."

Both she and Woodruff denied that the original legislative intent also involved establishing a means for the public to evaluate school districts and individual schools so they could make informed judgments in make choices about where children are educated. Private schools, however, are not included in the state-financed testing program and, for the most part, have resisted seeking entry into it. About a fourth of Delaware children attend non-public school.

Woodruff said the purpose of the testing is not to compare schools and districts against each other but to compare performance by schools and districts against their prior performance.

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2001. All rights reserved.

Get more information about this topic

Read a Delaforum Extra: Some key results of state assessment tests in Brandywine and Red Clay
Go to Delaware Department of Education report on this year's state testing program
Read related story: District official said some test results flawed





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