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Keeping score: Davis students excelling

FARMINGTON — When it comes to the federal No Child Left Behind Act and the stipulation that every child must be on grade level by 2014, Davis is off to a good start, district assessment specialist Chris Wahlquist said.

Students in Davis School District did well across the board on last year's end-of-year test, thanks in part to an elementary school reading program and additional teacher science training, Wahlquist said.

"We think our students are performing quite well," she said. "We tend to have scores that are at least as high or higher than the state."

Nearly four-fifths — 79.5 percent — of students in the district had scores that showed mastery or near mastery, which is considered proficient, in language arts. In math, 74.1 percent of students were at or near mastery, and in science, 75.7 percent of students had scores that put them in those categories.

In particular, some of the district's bright spots were in eighth-grade science and Earth systems. In Davis, 77.7 percent of students were proficient in Earth systems compared to 66.4 percent at the state level.

The district's high science scores are in part a result of federal money that pays for teacher training in science skills and strategies.

"That helps the teachers and in turn helps the students," Wahlquist said.

Students at Reading Elementary School in Centerville scored well in every subject, particularly math, in which 94.9 percent of students were at or near mastery.

Deseret News graphic

Davis District test scores

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Principal Jay Tolman attributes the solid scores to a supportive community and the school's unusual computer program, which students use three times a week for individualized instruction.

"There's always a correlation between student growth and the amount of time spent in the lab," he said.

Although about three-fourths of the students in Davis School District are proficient in each subject tested by the Core Criterion Reference Test, some students struggle.

Low-income, non-English-speaking and minority students tend to have lower scores on many exams, which follows a statewide pattern.

Districtwide language arts scores, for example, show 80.8 percent of white students are proficient. On the same tests, 58.9 percent of Hispanic students are considered proficient.

Students learning to speak English often lagged as well, though the district has been making strides to close the gap by training teachers in teaching English as a second language. The district has 6.5 percent of the state's English language learners but 27 percent of the state's teachers who are qualified to instruct those students.

"Despite the fact the results are very, very good, we stop and look at individual achievement," Wahlquist said.

That also includes helping a number of junior high and high school students in the district who are not proficient in math, which for some schools was the only weak spot.

Although it appears some schools may be falling behind in math, the students taking higher-level math courses were not tested last year in math and don't show up on the radar.

"We're dealing with the kids who in many instances have been afraid of math," Layton High assistant principal Myrna Mayes said.

The school has implemented a number of new programs and tactics to help boost math scores, including providing a variety of methods for students to learn the material, aligning the math classes so all students are prepared for the next level and looking at test data to determine which students aren't "getting it," she said.

"We're not going to stop trying. We'll keep looking for new ways," Mayes said.