By GRANT SCHULTE
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska public school students showed improvement this year on statewide proficiency tests in reading, writing and math but held steady in science, according to results released Tuesday.
Roughly three-fourths of all students who took the 2015 test met state standards, but Education Commissioner Matthew Blomstedt said parents and the public should look at how the scores change over time instead of individual years. Test scores have improved incrementally since the first reading exam six years ago, followed by the other subjects.
“Moving the needle from year to year is not easy,” Blomstedt said.
Roughly 451,000 students took this year’s Nebraska State Accountability exam, according to the Nebraska Department of Education.
The report said 80 percent of students were deemed proficient this year, up from 77 percent in 2014. In math, 72 percent of students were proficient compared to 71 percent the previous year.
In writing, 72 percent were declared proficient compared to 68 percent in 2013. The 2014 writing results weren’t counted because technology problems rendered them invalid.
Science scores were unchanged, with 72 percent of students considered proficient.
“Generally, we are seeing not only an increase in the percentage of students proficient on standards but also an increase in the percentage of students exceeding the standards,” Blomstedt said. “Nebraska teachers are successfully increasing their students’ learning and knowledge of the standards, in general, at all grade levels.”
Department officials have cautioned that the assessments are just one measure of achievement. Some of the improvement may also reflect teachers and students who have grown accustomed to the new tests, which were phased in by subject.
The tests were rewritten after the U.S. Department of Education said Nebraska had failed to show that its local assessments measured student achievement under the No Child Left Behind Act. Since that time, the percentage of students in the state who met or exceeded standards has increased.
The exams are designed to show schools which education strategies have worked and where students need to improve.
Despite the improved scores, Blomstedt said the state should strive to deliver more. White and Asian students have traditionally outperformed black, Hispanic and Native American students on the exams. Students who are still learning English and those with special needs also have struggled compared to their peers.
“We know we must focus on equity of educational opportunity and work to close the educational achievement gap among groups of students,” he said.