Students at four Lawrence elementary schools Tuesday had good reason to walk with a swagger.
Quail Run, Hillcrest, Langston Hughes and Wakarusa Valley schoolchildren achieved the "standard of excellence" on two of three standardized assessments given students statewide in 2001-2002.
In all, six Lawrence elementary schools met the benchmark a total of 10 times on the math, reading and writing assessments.
Last year, six schools in the district combined to ring the bell nine times on four tests Â math, reading, science and social studies.
"I'm pleased there's an increase," Supt. Randy Weseman said. "We've got progress here in the face of a lot of stuff."
Much of the district's attention the past year has been diverted by budget problems, which were exacerbated last month by an enrollment decrease and a state funding cut.
Weseman said performance inequities on state tests in the Lawrence district remained a troubling reality.
"We know there are gaps in achievement among schools and among students of low-income levels," the superintendent said. "Eliminating those gaps is our focus. That's what I'm concentrating on."
State advances slowly
The standard of excellence on state exams is based on a school's ability to have a minimum of 25 percent of students at the highest achievement level, which is called advanced, and a maximum of 5 percent at the lowest level, known as unsatisfactory.
Schools attaining that mark this year: Hillcrest, Quail Run and Wakarusa Valley, math and reading; Langston Hughes, math and writing; Sunflower, math; and Riverside, writing.
As was the case last year, none of Lawrence's secondary schools crossed the standard-of-excellence threshold.
Results of the latest round of testing were forwarded Tuesday to the Kansas State Board of Education.
Alexa Pochowski, assistant commissioner at the education department, said the three assessments suggested student performance in Kansas wasn't advancing at a rapid pace.
"There is improvement being made," she said. "It's not as significant as we'd like."
John Poggio, a director of the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at Kansas University, said the new round of state testing revealed tremendous variability in achievement within school districts and within school buildings.
"Some are doing amazingly well, and in some you wonder whether they had pencils to mark the tests," said Poggio, who is in charge of writing the state tests.
Overall, he said, the tests offered evidence the state does a "rather nice job of educating its youth."
Five of the Lawrence district's 19 elementary schools, or 26 percent, made the standard of excellence in math. Statewide, one in five buildings hit the measure.
Weseman said a dozen of Lawrence's elementary schools improved average performance on the exam, while scores at all four junior highs and Free State High School slipped.
"My expectation is that we'll begin to see significant math achievement in the near future, because we've just changed our math curriculum," he said.
In math, the state annually tests fourth-, seventh- and 10th-grade students. Lawrence's average scores at the elementary, junior high and high school levels remained above the state average.
Pochowski said statewide results on the 50-question exam showed student performance virtually unchanged in math.
"Same trends as before," she said. "Males slightly outperform females. Whites and Asians continue to perform. African-Americans perform least well."
Two of Lawrence's 19 elementary schools Â Langston Hughes and Riverside Â nailed the standard of excellence in writing. Statewide, 9.5 percent of all Kansas elementary schools reached that yardstick.
Weseman said the district's scores were up slightly at the elementary and secondary levels, but he's not satisfied with the pace of progress.
"I'm not seeing the growth there that I'd like to see," Weseman said.
The test is taken by fifth-, eighth- and 11th-grade students.
No state averages on the writing exam are calculated because districts are permitted to administer the exam in different ways. On this test, students prepare an essay on a selected topic.
This test was last administered in 2000.
Last year, the Lawrence district didn't have any school meet the standard of excellence in reading.
Hillcrest, Quail Run and Wakarusa Valley managed to rebound through renewed emphasis on reading instruction.
"We have really clear staff focus on reading, and that has been something that has grown over the years," said Paulette Strong, principal at Quail Run.
She said the school's teachers, parents and volunteers worked collectively to prepare and motivate children for the reading assessment.
"It's a cumulative process," Strong said.
The reading exam is given to students in fifth, eighth and 11th grades. Reading comprehension of selected passages is assessed.
Weseman said students at the elementary and secondary levels in Lawrence had scores above the state average.