MURRAY — Murray School District students have a good handle on the state core curriculum, even more so than peers statewide, 2001 test results show.

All junior high and high school-level science scores on the core curriculum test are up from 2000. The same goes for all but geometry and elementary algebra in math.

Language arts, science and math scores have increased in nearly all elementary grade levels. The district for the most part exceeds state averages in the numbers of students scoring in mastery levels on the exam.

Secondary language arts tests were not published by the state this year because achievement standards have not yet been set.

"Murray students do very well on end-of-level tests," district curriculum director Al Church said. "Our scores do present a platform . . . and we're confident there will be improvement."

The exam is intended to show how well students know the state core curriculum. The test was taken by all first- through 12th-graders in Utah for the first time last spring under the state's new school accountability system. But Murray and other districts have given the tests in past years.

The district's elementary algebra and geometry scores, however, are skewed. Murray High School's answer sheets were scored improperly because of a clerical oversight, Church said. The problem was not discovered in time to adjust district averages.

At any rate, core curriculum test scores are divided into four tiers, set by the state as achievement benchmarks.

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Murray District Scores

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Students scoring in mastery and near-mastery levels are ready for the next grade. Those achieving in the partial-mastery level need tutoring before they can be successful in the next level. And students categorized as having minimal mastery of the curriculum are unprepared to move on.

In those terms, the Math 7 scores spurred discussion in Murray district.

Nearly half the students enrolled in the junior high basic skills course are scoring in partial- and minimal-mastery levels. The same is true statewide: an average 59 percent of Math 7 test-takers are not considered ready to move on.

Yet Church doesn't believe the answer is to focus on Math 7. "You don't give kids more of the same if they're failing in that class. If kids are struggling in math, you don't give them more drill and kill."

Students might better excel in math if they're exposed to a more dynamic and challenging pre-algebra curriculum. Riverview Junior High, which Church used to head, doesn't offer Math 7 for that reason. The school's pre-algebra scores are comparable to Hillcrest's, the only other junior high in the district.

The new state core curriculum coming down the pike also introduces algebraic concepts in elementary school, which could make the transition to pre-algebra more step than leap.

Math 7 isn't the only discussion rising out of test data.

Teachers and principals all over the city have gathered to examine scores and ways to improve instruction. McMillan Elementary teachers and leaders, for example, set goals in math problem solving, writing mechanics and reading comprehension in a late-summer brainstorming session.

"The teachers really appreciated the opportunity to sit down and look at (the test data) and they did use it very professionally and came up with some good plans," principal David Smith said. "None of those test areas were very low . . . (but) we are confident we're going to see improvement."