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— Recently released Benchmark Exam scores show the Decatur School District is generally improving in mathematics and literacy.

Arkansas benchmark exams are administered to students in grades three through eight in the areas of literacy and math. Student scores fall into the categories of below basic, basic, proficient and advanced.

The Arkansas Department of Education uses the scores to track whether or not school districts are keeping up with the stateÃ-s minimum standards.

DecaturÃ-s Northside Elementary School showed a 23 percent improvement in literacy in 2009. The school was put on alert status in 2008 for its low literacy scores, but the improvement will change the schoolÃ-s status to Target Improvement Achieving First Year, according to principal Leslie Sharp.

ÃIÃ-m really excited about the scores, and IÃ-m excited about the third and fourth grade doing their best,î Sharp said.

She is planning on ordering T-shirts for the teachers and throwing a party for the students to celebrate their success.

This year Sharp said she plans to focus intensely on improving literacy in kindergarten through second grade. Her staff will be training in a year-long literacy program.

ÃItÃ-s based on actual practice; we know it works,î Sharp said.

The program is especially good for English language learners and allows teachers to utilize what they learn and put it directly back into the class room.

Middle school scores are down slightly from last year, testing coordinator Nancy Cotter said.

ÃMiddle school scores are still good, they just dropped a little from last year when they were all excellent,î she explained.

DecaturÃ-s classes are small, Cotter said. In a class of 40 students, each student accounts for 2.5 percent of the score so a slight shift in demographics can really effect the score.

The Decatur High SchoolÃ-s end-of-course scores are also up, according to Cotter. Compared to test data from 2008, students showed a 4 percent gain in biology, a 20 percent gain in literacy and a 6 percent gain in algebra, though no gain was made in geometry test scores.

Community, Pages 8 on 08/12/2009

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