Exams reveal interesting results

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The conventional belief that only children from financially prosperous homes can pass standardized tests may have met a challenge, according to results from the state's Gateway exams.
   Carter County Schools were one of 27 state school systems where students identified as coming from lower socio-economic status (SES) scored higher in Algebra I than students coming from higher SES levels.
   "We're interested in getting 100 percent passing the tests. We certainly want no child left behind," said Dr. Ben Brown, executive director of evaluation and assessment.
   "We know that (status) is performance related, but it doesn't have to be that way."
   Seventy percent of Carter County students identified as low SES students passed the Algebra I exam compared to 66.5 percent for students ranked above SES level.
   "You would expect those who are not on low economic status to do better," said Dr. Shirley Ellis, director of Federal Programs and Testing with Carter County Schools.
   The figures come from Gateway exam results released by the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) on Thursday.
   Low socioeconomic status students were identified as those students who qualify to receive free or reduced lunches, according to state classifications.
   "When I see a group of lower socioeconomic students scoring higher than others, it makes me wonder if our educators are really trying to teach to that low socioeconomic group and maybe do more than in the past," said Ellis.
   "Money does not mean you can't learn."
   In the Gateway Biology I exam results, 96.3 percent of Carter County students identified as being from low SES homes passed the exam compared to 97.3 percent of students above the state SES level.
   Among Elizabethton City Schools, the Algebra I test took an entirely different turn.
   City students in higher SES passed the exam at a rate of 91 percent compared to 75.9 percent of students from the low SES, according to Gateway test results.
   However, Elizabethton High School students rated with a low SES had a 100 percent passage rate on the Biology I exam while 99.3 percent of students above the SES passed that exam, according to test results released by TDOE.
   "Funding helps in purchasing materials and supplies," Ellis said of the scores posted by students. "Eventually, it is the teacher and the motivation that can make a difference, in my opinion."
   Brown said the aggregated data compiled in Gateway testing paints a clearer picture of students who needed more academic help. Beyond that, he said, the test did not have a major impact on a student's overall academic experience.
   Brown, whose division implements the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program and Gateway exams, said how the phenomenon happened was a mystery.
   "What happened is what you see; how that happened, that is speculation and something that we need to investigate," said Brown. "How you can make it happen, that's the secret."