School posts big jump in eighth grade state testing

The scores for the state basic skills tests for eighth graders were announced last week, and for Maple Lake, it was very good news.

Eighty-three percent of Maple Lake’s eighth graders passed the math test and 93% passed the reading test, for a respective 5.2% and 10% increase over last year’s success rate. And those increases were made even more impressive when noting that state average passing rates in math dived 3% to 72 while the reading test showed a slight 1% increase over last year with 81% of the state’s eighth graders posting a passing mark.  Last year’s testing success rate in Maple Lake was 77.8% in math and 83.1% in reading.

Over the past five years of the testing, Maple Lake has progressed from a success rate well below the state average to a level now well above and MLHS Principal Mary James said the steady increases have been the result of a team effort.

“I credit it to the effort of our kids, our teachers and program changes,” she said. “We’ve been working really hard and these kids have been working really hard.”  James said that hard work includes administering benchmark pretests in sixth and seventh grades. “We use that data the following year to make sure we hit the spots that students are struggling with,” she said.

Students in seventh grade also take a nine-week reading class that helps them develop strategies for reading and understanding both fiction and nonfiction. In eighth grade, teachers conduct reading strategy sessions at least once a week and math classes work on Problems of the Day, which are similar to those students will find on the basic tests.

“Students have a real comfort zone when they look at those tests,” James said. “They know it’s not something they can’t do.”

James said student attitude and parent support have also been factors, with all involved understanding the importance of the state tests.

“It’s attitude, along with preparation, that gets these results,” James said.  But as good as the state’s basic skills news is, James said that parents need to realize that the tests measure only the most basic information that students should know.

“These are the basic skills tests,” James said. “They are the bare minimum. This has to be a component of a class, but it can’t be the entire English or math class.”

For James, the biggest measure of success is in the small number of students who will need to brush up on the basics and retake the tests before graduation. Only five of this year’s eighth graders will need to retake the reading test and 13 will be retaking the math test. In the upper grades, there are no seniors who have not passed the basic skills tests and only four juniors who have yet to pass either the math or reading tests.

And James said that, as in the past, the success of this year’s eighth graders will be celebrated with a recognition celebration that is currently in the planning stages.