Storm Lake is one of only eight school districts in the state with test scores considered to be less than 70% "proficient" in reading and math at the three measured grade levels for 2005-2007, according to the Iowa Department of Education.
The district has grappled for years with the difficulty of teaching these core classes to an ever-changing multi-ethnic student population of about 2,100, in which English is often not the first language for a large percentage.
However, the district is coming to grips with another factor that may be contributing to the challenge - poverty.
With 57 percent of all students qualifying for free or reduced-price school lunches based on income guidelines, only nine districts in Iowa fare worse on this measure of poverty, out of nearly 370 public districts.
Storm Lake's percentage of students scoring "proficient" levels, based on the standard skills tests conducted for 2005-06 and 2006-07, are:
* 4th Grade Reading: 61%
* 4th Grade Math: 57%
* 8th Grade Reading: 53%
* 8th Grade Math: 57%
* 11th Grade Reading: 68%
* 11th Grade Math: 68%
Every student theoretically can score proficiently on the tests because they are not curved, for purposes of complying with the federal No Child Left Behind law, according to the Iowa Department of Education.
According to a recent Des Moines Regiser editoral, statewide, 80% of 4th graders were proficient in math, and 78.1% in reading; 74.6% of 8th graders were proficient in math, 71.2% in reading; and 77.7% percent of 11th graders in math, 76.3% in reading.
(Fourth- and eighth-graders took the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and 11th-graders took the Iowa Tests of Educational Development.)
In the eight lowest-scoring districts, all had at least a third of their students from families with incomes low enough to qualify for free or reduced-price meals. On that list, only Marshalltown, another Iowa city with a meatpacking industry, had more needy students than Storm Lake, at 58 percent.
Storm Lake has already attempted to answer the test scoring with stepped-up progams in those areas and continued committment to before-school and after-school programming.
The districts scoring under 70 percent on average are Central Decatur, East Greene, Marshalltown, Mormon Trail, Storm Lake, Waterloo, Colfax-Mingo and West Harrison.