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2000 performance wins praise in Davis District

Language low in 3rd grade, but most scores high

Officials in the Davis County School District are upbeat about their Stanford Achievement Test scores.

"We have wonderful results again this year," said Chris Wahlquist, director of research and assessment. "Our average student performs as well as a high-performing student in the nation."

DNews graphicSchool-by-school scoresRequires Adobe Acrobat.

Superintendent Darrell White shares Wahlquist's enthusiasm. However, while lauding the scores, White said he mistrusts test scores and the way people perceive them.

"Test scores are misrepresented in media around the country," he said.

White pointed out, for example, that Davis third-graders' 43 percentile score in language, its lowest in all test areas by a good margin, is equivalent to 70 percent correct answers.

He noted that if the average Davis third-grader taking the test had gotten only one more answer correct, it would have put the district above the national median.

Davis students in all four grade levels taking the test scored relatively low on language.

"It is interesting to note that language is the low score," White said. "We shouldn't panic, but we do need to look at that."

While Davis students may not be stellar with regard to the intricacies of language, they are readers. Scores in reading comprehension were good.

"We see a strong level of achievement there," Wahlquist said.

One possible contributor to the high reading scores is the "accelerated reader" program making inroads into several Davis elementary schools. The program tests students and determines their reading level, after which the students can choose appropriate books from among hundreds that have been ranked according to level. That ensures they are not reading books that are too hard or too easy for them, either of which results in declining interest in reading.

Under the program, after reading a particular book the students take a comprehension test on it. They can build up points from taking the tests. Many teachers offer a prize of some sort when their class reaches a set number of points.

While some remain skeptical, saying the program gives students the wrong motivation to read, many teachers and parents are enthusiastic about it.

Davis students generally scored strong in math and science. The district's 11th-graders, for example, scored a whopping 73 in math and 67 in science.

"That is very exciting to me," school board member Cheryl Phipps said. "We're serving our students well in these areas."

There has been increasing interest in teaching math and science generally since the 1950s, something that students in Davis County have latched onto.

"Our students choose to take substantial, challenging courses," Wahlquist said.

Gov. Mike Leavitt has repeatedly emphasized the need for more Utah students to become more proficient in technology-related areas, and Utah jobs in general are heading in that direction.

Wahlquist pointed out that Davis students are generally improving in test results as they grow older. Comparing the eighth-graders' scores with their scores in fifth grade, for example, shows improvement relative to the rest of the country.

"This is good news," she said. "This a good indication that our students are not just treading water but are growing."