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Defense Department school students scored above the national average in every subject area on a new, more rigorous version of the annual TerraNova test, educators announced Thursday.

In the Department of Defense Education Activity, 49,596 students in grades 3 to 11 took the test last spring. In most grades and subject areas, they scored 10 to 26 percentile points above the national average, according to DODEA officials.

Students were assessed in reading, language, math, science and social studies. Scores are compared to a "norm group," a cross section of about 350,000 stateside students who took the same test in 2007. Questions are a mix of multiple choice and written answers.

The TerraNova is a valid test that helps school officials determine "are these kids up to par?" said Steve Schrankel, DODEA chief of assessment and accountability. "We can say yes, and favorably so. However, there’s always room to improve, and we’re not letting up on that either."

In Europe, slightly more than 22,000 students were tested, and they outscored the DODEA-wide marks in every category except two, according to statistics provided by DODEA. In math, DODDS-Europe third-graders matched the DODEA median average, and in the same subject, fourth-graders scored two points below the DODEA median.

DODDS-Europe ninth-graders in math had the highest average score across DODEA, scoring in the 78th percentile — meaning as a group, 78 percent scored better than the norm group, and 22 percent scored below.

In the Pacific, students in grades 3 to 11 scored above the national average in every area, with students generally scoring in higher percentiles as they aged.

Such a trend was evident across DODEA, where the lowest median scores were seen among third- and fourth-graders in reading, language and math. In language, for example, 19 percent of DODEA third-graders’ scores were in the bottom quarter of the national scores.

DODEA’s Community Strategic Plan has mandated that 75 percent of all students score at or above the national average by 2011, and that no more than 7 percent score in the bottom 25 percent.

"Starting in seventh grade, in most cases, we are [already] doing this across the board," Schrankel said. "The elementary level needs attention because we are seeing a number of kids in the group below the 25th percentile."

DODEA officials say they would like to see those elementary math and reading scores rebound.

"You’re going to see in the next few years a more focused effort in the elementary grades in reading and the same for math," said Marc Mossburg, DODEA chief of curriculum.

Because this year’s TerraNova is a new test, officials said results can’t be compared to DODEA results from years past.

"These scores have now set a new baseline for us," DODEA spokeswoman Elaine Kanellis said.

School officials in the Pacific stressed that the test should be viewed as a measure of a student’s abilities, compared with his or her peers, at a moment in time, rather than as a comparison from year to year.

"It’s an important test," Pacific schools spokesman Charles Hoff said. "It’s not the only test."

This newer version of the TerraNova is aimed at measuring a student’s cognitive and thinking skills, said Joseph Baltrus, the education research analyst for the Pacific schools. More questions involved problem-solving and had multiple steps, he said during a phone interview Friday afternoon.

The test has practical applications as well, Hoff and Baltrus said. No student is reassigned course work or class time because of the test, they said. Instead, teachers look at the results — a student’s ability to understand material, analyze it or evaluate it — and use them to emphasize learning for the individual student or the entire class.

More 2009 TerraNova scores ...DoDEA

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DoDSS-Europe

DoDDS-Pacific

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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