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Educators Score Low On Credibility

Two plus two doesn’t always equal four when it comes to results from the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, as provided by Coeur d’Alene school officials and other school districts. It can equal five, six or whatever number will present educators in the best light.

Recently, Coeur d’Alene administrators hailed this year’s test scores as proof that the district is headed in the right direction after reaching a five-year low two years ago. Coeur d’Alene schools appeared to exceed their 1994 reading scores in three grades and improved in language and math at several levels.

Sixth-graders, for example, scored at the 76th percentile in reading, or better than three-fourths of their peers nationwide. Elementary education director Hazel Bauman interpreted the score to mean the district is doing a pretty good job teaching reading.

Maybe it is. Or maybe the district has done a superb job at damage control. Parent watchdogs say the district compared a 90-minute survey, which emphasizes analysis over basic skills, with the five-hour battery of tests used in the past. Grades three, five and seven took the longer test this year - with some awful results.

Rather than paint happy faces on test scores, administrators should level with patrons. Parents want their children to read, write, solve math problems and know why we fought the Civil War. If little Johnny and Jane are failing, their parents want to know about it, and they want the problem addressed. Now.

Bogus test scores breed distrust. If school officials fudge something as black and white as a test score, patrons wonder what else they’re hiding.

After sifting through test results, Coeur d’Alene parent Eileen Cox wondered if the shorter test gauges basic skills at all. Ken Burchell, chairman of the Coeur d’Alene School Board, also questioned the survey: “The tests keep getting easier and easier and shorter and shorter and less and less of a quantitative measure of what our children are learning.”

If Cox’s numbers are correct, some students in the three grades who took the longer test aren’t learning much. In five elementaries, Coeur d’Alene third- and fifth-graders registered spelling scores between the 7th percentile (worse than 93 percent of their peers nationwide) and the 27th percentile. And in five elementaries, some of which are the same schools, math scores ranged from the 7th to 34th percentiles.

In one Coeur d’Alene school, third-graders scored in the 7th percentile in spelling and fifth-graders in the 7th percentile in math.

Too many students are at risk to sweep these kind of numbers under the rug.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board

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