The Kansas Department of Education reported Tuesday that an astonishing two-thirds of Langston Hughes' fourth-graders achieved at the highest level -- advanced -- on the 2001 state math assessment. No other Lawrence elementary came close to reaching that level of expertise.
Myron Melton, Langston Hughes principal, said a focus on math proficiency by parents and teachers produced a potent mixture of success.
"When it came time for the assessment, students were very confident. They were even enthusiastic," he said.
Results from the 2001 examinations in math, reading, science and social studies revealed six Lawrence elementary schools -- Langston Hughes, Hillcrest, Wakarusa Valley, Sunflower, Deerfield and Quail Run -- achieved the state's "standard of excellence" on at least one exam. The standard requires a minimum of 25 percent of students in the advanced category and a maximum of 5 percent at the lowest level, unsatisfactory.
Langston Hughes, Hillcrest and Wakarusa Valley hit doubles by meeting the standard on two assessments.
The downside from this year's state-mandated testing was that no Lawrence secondary school crossed the standard-of-excellence threshold.
In addition, none of its elementary schools met the standard in reading. Last year, three district schools hit that mark.
"That is a number I'd like to hear a better explanation for," said Scott Morgan, Lawrence school board member.
The Lawrence district's only repeat from last year was Hillcrest School, 1045 Hilltop Drive, which recorded back-to-back finishes in math standard-of-excellence sweepstakes.
Principal Tammy Becker said the key was that the school's teachers infused the curriculum with instruction in 10 different problem-solving concepts.
"They spend a good deal of time on that," she said. "The state math assessment is written along those lines."
Roughly 17 percent of elementary buildings and 11 percent of secondary buildings made the state standard in math. Fourth-, seventh- and 10th-graders were tested.
Statewide, in all grade levels assessed in math, the percentage of students in the upper three performance categories -- advanced, proficient and satisfactory -- was greater in 2001 than in 2000.
That was true in the Lawrence district as well, with the exception of the advanced category at the high-school level, which dipped 3 percentage points from last year.
Quail Run, Deerfield and Pinckney schools had the honor of reaching the standard of excellence in reading on the 2000 state reading test. None of Lawrence's schools climbed that mountain this year.
Statewide, about 8 percent of schools attained the standard.
Slippage occurred across the Lawrence district. Compared to last year's test results, slightly fewer of the district's fifth-, eighth- and 11th-graders this year were in the upper three achievement categories.
"You don't want these numbers going backward at all," said Marlene Merrill, director of assessments for the Lawrence district.
Statewide, more elementary students than last year were in the top three performance categories. Kansas eighth-graders in the upper three levels fell by 1 percentage point and the state's 11th-graders in those categories fell 2 percentage points.
Wakarusa Valley and Langston Hughes schools were the district's representatives on the Kansas all-star science test roster.
Linda Rogers, principal at Wakarusa Valley, said the school's staff worked to allow every student to experience the mystery of science. Attention is paid to helping students grasp the application of scientific knowledge, the principal said.
"It's not enough just to know the facts," she said.
Eighty-seven percent of Wakarusa Valley's students tested at the three upper levels of achievement. The district's average among elementary students at those three levels was 70 percent.
East Heights, Kennedy, New York and Woodlawn had more than 50 percent of students in the basic and unsatisfactory categories.
Statewide, in science, about 60 percent of elementary students were in the top three levels. From 5 percent to 8 percent of Kansas schools, depending on grade level, met the state standard.
Lawrence sixth-graders performed well on the social studies assessment. Four of 19 elementary schools in the district hit the standard. They were Hillcrest, Sunflower, Deerfield and Quail Run.
"That's one of the areas we did pretty well," Merrill said. "I don't have a real explanation as to why we did so much better in this area."
The social studies test was given to students in the sixth, eighth and 11th grades.
Statewide, 17 percent of elementary schools attained the standard on the social studies assessment, which included questions on history, geography, government and economics.
A performance gap emerged at Lawrence High School and Free State High School on this test. Nearly 20 percent of Free State's 11th-graders were in the unsatisfactory level, while 10 percent of LHS' students were at that level.
Public schools reached the state's standard of excellence by having at least 25 percent of students in the advanced category and less than 5 percent in the unsatisfactory.
"It doesn't let you leave 10 percent of your kids behind," said John Poggio, co-director of the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at Kansas University.
The center was responsible for crafting the four exams. This was the second year of the math and reading tests and the first year for science and social studies assessments.
Andy Tompkins, state education commissioner, said another wrinkle this year was that districts had to comply with federal law requiring inclusion of as many students with disabilities as possible in the testing. Higher participation rates didn't undercut test scores as some people anticipated.
"I think that speaks well of the effort that went into the development of modified and alternate assessments to ensure a student's ability, and not his or her disability, was being tested," Tompkins said.
Disaggregated data for all students show that, in most cases, a higher percentage of female students than male students performed in the three top levels of reading. In social studies, males did better across the board. Males and females were generally even in math. In science, males did better at all grades except the 10th grade.
In all subject areas and at all grades, minority students performed below white students. The same trend exists when looking at scores based on socioeconomic status. Students who weren't eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches performed better than those who qualified for the federal meal program.
The 2001 state results will be available on the education department's Web site at www.ksde.org.
-- Staff writer Tim Carpenter can be reached at 832-7155.