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Student test results improve despite hurdles

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SAN DIEGO — Three times a year, Catholic elementary school students take a national assessment that measures their competency at reading and math. The results help teachers to tailor their instruction to meet the needs of every student.

Matthew Cordes, associate director of the diocesan Office for Schools, said the most recent STAR Reading and STAR Math assessment results for the diocese’s Catholic schools are “just phenomenal.”

Those results, from January, reveal that the majority of students in the second through eighth grades are meeting or exceeding the expectations of their grade level in both reading and math. They also show that students have improved since the previous assessment taken at the start of the current school year.

Overall, the results of the previous STAR assessment in September showed “a little bit of (a) dip” after months of distance-learning, said Cordes, but that lost ground has been retaken. Between the assessments in September and those in January, local Catholic school students went from the 58th to 61st percentile in reading and from the 62nd to 64th percentile in math.

These numbers might seem modest, but the percentiles reflect student academic growth rather than student achievement, said Cordes. These scores mean that the diocesan students’ growth rate is more than 10 percent higher than the average student nationwide.

The STAR results reflect the individual scores of a diverse population of about 10,000 Catholic school students in the diocese who took part in the assessment, he said. That shows that Catholic education has tangible benefits for both top students as well as those who might be struggling.

Cordes praises the diocese’s teachers and principals for that increase.

“It’s a huge credit to our teachers that they have had the bravery of being back in the classroom and making that difference,” he said.

The STAR assessments were created by Renaissance Learning, Inc., and have been used by San Diego diocesan schools since the fall of 2015. Students take them in the fall, winter and spring of each academic year.

“What’s great about the STAR assessments is that you can do individual plans,” said Ladonna Lambert, principal of Good Shepherd School in Mira Mesa, who explained that teachers use the scores to determine how best to group students in the classroom and which students might require additional help with certain concepts.

“In our STAR results, we’re still seeing the students are progressing,” she said, despite the ongoing challenge of teaching on-campus and distance-learning students simultaneously.

Elijah Bonde, principal of Nativity Prep Academy in the College Area, said the STAR assessment is “an important tool for the diocese and for us.”

“We know that Catholic schools are effective and that they make a positive impact in kids’ lives. … Now, all of a sudden, we can put data behind that intuition that really proves that Catholic schools are making a huge difference,” he said.

STAR assessments are considered computer-adaptive, which means that the questions asked during the assessment are determined by whether the individual student correctly or incorrectly answered the preceding question.

Some standardized tests might determine whether particular students will meet the educational standards set for their current grade level, said Cordes. But STAR assessments go one step further by revealing “exactly where they are, so we can help them improve at a greater rate.”

“Our stopping point isn’t those standards,” he said. “It’s as high as we can get students to grow.”

More information about local Catholic schools is available at www.sdcatholicschools.org.

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