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Testing: Teach the essentials Tell North Platte what you think

Statewide school test results were published Tuesday morning, showing that North Platte schools made some significant improvements last year, but still have a ways to go to measure up.

The results are from reading, math and science tests (assessments) that were taken last spring.

In math, North Platte students improved in the key grades of 5th, 7th and 11th. Fifth grade students also improved in science, Curriculum Director Gayle Sharkey told the school board Tuesday.

Scores at the high school and Madison Middle School – two relatively low performing schools – improved significantly, but still fell well short of statewide average scores.

On a brighter note, elementary students, especially at McDonald, Eisenhower, the Lake and Osgood, often exceeded the state average score in reading. And overall, North Platte third grade students bettered the state average in math.

Fifth grade students across the district beat the state average in science. 

Buffalo School Principal Linda Clavel also said third and fourth grade Buffalo students beat the state average in math.

Unfortunately, the state writing test was generally a bust. No results are available for fourth grade and higher because of problems with the state’s computer system, Sharkey said. 

Sharkey said the results are preliminary. The state department of education will publish more comprehensive results and comparisons in October.

Sharkey said the North Platte teachers are working diligently to continue to improve, focusing on accurately identifying shortfalls and spending more time with students.

She said teachers also continue to team up in "professional learning communities" to share successful techniques – a process that began four years ago and is becoming more defined each year. 


Getting the basics 

From a list of state standards (academic abilities), the most essential are identified, Sharkey said.

If you tried to teach every single standard, you might have to increase the school year by 300 days, she said. But there are some key standards that students must know.

“For instance, a student must understand numbers in Kindergarten and first grade to be successful in subtraction in second grade,” she said. 

Teachers have to guarantee to teach the most essential standards (abilities), she said. Those are things students have to know to succeed in school.

“It is our professional, moral and ethical responsibility to teach these things,” she said.

For instance, in first or second grade, counting change and telling time on the clock are important but not as vital to succeeding in upper grades as knowing how to add and subtract, Sharkey said.

So if you don’t teach the essential standards, you may have unknowingly created a gap in the student’s ability, Sharkey said.

Sharkey said teachers ask and answer four key questions to measure their success in the classroom. 

• What do we want students to know?
• How do we know if they know it?
• What do we do if they don’t?
• What do we do if they do? 

If students don’t learn the essentials, teachers spend one-on-one time (intervention). If students do learn the essentials before the rest of the class, they move to another assignment (enrichment).

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 8/28/2014
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