By PAUL J. SPETRINI
NORTH KINGSTOWN—Students in North Kingstown and Exeter-West Greenwich are performing better in science than just about ever before.
At least that’s the conclusion Superintendents Dr. Philip Auger and Dr. Thomas Geismar, from NK and E-WG respectively, would like to draw from news this week that both school districts are among Rhode Island’s highest performing in the annual New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) science testing.
Nearly half of all students in North Kingstown—48 percent to be exact—and 41 percent of those in EWG from grades 4, 8 and 11 scored at or above proficiency in the standardized test, administered last May.
The results follow strong performances in February by both districts in reading, math and writing.
“Well, I’m really happy with them,” Auger said Wednesday. “We made some really nice gains at the middle level so I’m very pleased with that. We made a one-point gain at the high school; elementary we’ve always been strong and we remain strong. We’re one of the highest performing school districts in the state for science at the elementary level so I’m very happy with staying consistently high at that level.”
“My reaction, particularly with the high school scores, is that I was very pleased,” Geismar said, noting that 45 of students at EWGHS reached proficiency, a 26 percent jump from last year. “We want to keep doing better but we’ve been very disappointed over the past couple of years by those scores because we have not felt that they were a reflection of the quality of teaching going on in the classroom, nor did we think that they were a reflection on the quality of our students.
All told, 59 percent of North Kingstown elementary students in grade 4 scored at or above proficiency in the testing. Those numbers are slightly lower than last year’s 66-percent mark but are far above the average in Rhode Island, where just 43 percent of students were proficient at the elementary school level.
Where NK made the biggest jump was at the middle school level. Last year, just 44 percent of eight graders in the district were proficient in science. This year, that number was up to 57 percent.
“The middle level, we had a really big gain last year and a really big gain this year so I’m ecstatic about that one,” Auger said, crediting a kit-based program the district does with the University of Rhode Island for the increased scores. “URI staff help us to organize these lessons and provide us with the materials and the lesson plans and train our people and we’ve seen some really good results. I wish all of our programs worked this well.”
At the high school level, just 30 percent of students from grade 11 were proficient in science but, Auger notes, that number is an increase by one percentage point over last year and four percentage points from the 2008-2009 testing year.
“We’re going uphill but it’s not nearly the kind of progress we’re hoping for,” he said. “At 30 percent, you may say ‘well, that really sounds low’ and I guess it is but the problem that we’re looking at, too, is that the rest of the state is probably the lowest number of all the state tests.”
State-wide, just 26 percent of 11th graders in Rhode Island were proficient in science.
In Exeter, however, it was one of the biggest jumps as 45 percent of students at EWGHS were proficient, compared to 46 percent at the fourth-grade level and 34 percent at the eighth-grade level.
The biggest question left is: Can the school keep the trend going up?
“That’s part of the challenge,” Geismar said. “You just have to make sure that you’re teaching what you’re supposed to and making sure that the students understand the importance of trying hard on the tests and doing their best and we intend to do that.”