2010-10-07 / News

N.K. administrators optimistic about NECAP scores

By Eileen M. Daly

Although North Kingstown High School students have made only minimal gains in NECAP science scores with a 2.2% increase over last year, administrators remain optimistic that they are on the right path to improve both test scores and student learning.

According to North Kingstown Superintendent of Schools Phil Thornton and Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Phil Auger, the ongoing work in the district to align teaching methods and standardize teaching practices is beginning to show results — results that they believe will be replicated throughout the district.

“Whenever you introduce new teaching methods, there is a lag between implementation and results,” Thornton said.

The pair mentioned progress made in the North Kingstown middle schools as evidence that they are on the right track to improve both learning and the assessment of learning.

Wickford Middle School students showed a 22.4% increase in science scores and Davisville Middle School students showed an 11.3% increase. According to Thornton and Auger, those scores are a direct result of the science teaching methods introduced in the middle schools two years ago.

“Two years ago, the middle schools were not tightly organized around science,” Thornton said. Science teachers in the middle schools were using a textbook and each teacher had a different method of implementing and teaching the material, he said.

To improve the instruction, he said, kit-based science was introduced and science teachers throughout the middle schools met in teams and began the process of ensuring that the instruction was standardized and that every student would learn the same necessary material. Two years later, the results speak for themselves, Thornton said.

The new ideology encompasses “backward planning” and is in direct opposition to this past process.

“We are now assessing and then instructing, versus the past method of instructing and then assessing,” Thornton said. This backward planning allows teachers to analyze what students are lacking and then ensure that they are receiving the instruction they need, he said.

Thornton was careful to point out that although teaching to assessment is a good thing, it does not mean teaching actual test items.

“For example if we were teaching fractions, we wouldn’t give the exact item on the test but we do need to teach skills and then assess the learning of those skills,” he said.

Thornton acknowledged that the high school science tests scores are not where his administration would like them to be.

When asked why the high school has not shown results similar to the middle schools, Thornton said, “I think each school moves at its own pace.”

To hasten that pace, Thornton and Auger intend to institute the same assessment-based teaching methods at the high school that have proven successful at the middle school level.

“We are looking at our current juniors and asking what can we do to align our teaching so that we can see results in May,” Thornton said.

The pair is also focusing on collaborative change, meeting with teachers, forming teams and approaching the task of improving scores systematically. Thornton added, for example, that the current method of teaching high school science leaves some juniors with gaps in their instruction that are then evidenced on the test.

Some juniors, he said, might not have taken courses in chemistry by the time the NECAP assessment is given, leaving a gap in their learning that will have a negative impact on their test scores.

The task then, according to Thornton and Auger, is to ensure that every student is receiving appropriate instruction, that the instruction is standardized across classrooms and schools, and that teachers, administrators and students work collaboratively.

Both remain optimistic that this process is underway and that the results will be positive not only at the high school, but throughout the district.

Return to top