Saturday, 25 May 2024

Math whiz kids: Local elementary students ace state math test

Eddie Llewellyn, right, and his brother Joey show off some of their educational certificates. Eddie was one of several local students who scored perfectly on the math portion of the STAR test last year. Photo courtesy of Bill and Minsook Llewellyn.






LAKE COUNTY – Amidst the fairly glum news facing education today – severe financial cutbacks, teacher and staff layoffs, and an all-around assault on resources – it's important to remember one thing: Children are still learning, thanks to the hard work of parents and teachers.

In fact, some children are learning very well, and showing incredible aptitudes in some tough subjects.

One example is mathematics. The county is home to numerous elementary school students who last year did particularly well on California's Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) test, hitting perfect 600 scores on the math portion.

This past year, the districts reported the following perfect scores in the elementary ranks: Konocti Unified, four, Lakeport Unified, two; Kelseyville Unified, five; Lucerne Unified Elementary, one. None were reported in Upper Lake Elementary, and information on perfect-scoring students was not made available from Middletown Unified.

Most of the districts do not divulge names, however, in Lucerne, the star STAR student was second grader Elizabeth McIntire, now 8, who was 7 when she took the test, the district reported.

Students in Konocti Unified were honored for their achievement last November at a school board meeting, where they received commendation certificates, plus bouquets of flowers for the girls.

Two of Konocti's top performers were 10-year-old Kayla Curtis and 12-year-old Eddie Llewellyn. Both are students in Rachel McFarland's sixth grade class at Lower Lake Elementary. The two students were fifth graders when they took the test.

McFarland said the STAR test is an evaluation of how well students meet their grade level standards, after working hard on them all year.

“Getting a perfect score is really a phenomenal thing,” she said.

A second-year teacher, McFarland said other students at the school also have had stellar achievement on the test -- including Maya Griffin, who got a perfect STAR test math score when she was only a third grader (she's in fifth grade now).



Eddie Llewellyn and Kayla Curtis, front row, at a November meeting of the Konocti Unified School District Board of Trustees. Photo courtesy of Steve and Mandy Curtis.



McFarland is very proud and complimentary of her students.

She said she will teach a lesson to the class, then assign the students work for the rest of the class period. Eddie usually is the first one done.

“He really is an extraordinary kid – a diligent worker,” McFarland said.

Eddie said math is his favorite subject, which helped him get that perfect STAR test score, no mean feat considering the questions can be pretty tough.

Although he's an all-around good student, some subjects aren't quite in the favorite category, such as English and history, which he called “a little not fun.”

He's also musical, having started taking the saxophone last March and the piano in the summer.

Eddie has a fraternal twin brother, Joey – Eddie emphasizes that he's the older twin – who also is good at math, plays the keyboards and clarinet, plus is the school's spelling bee champion, said McFarland. Spelling, said Eddie, is another one of those not fun subjects.

He said he thinks he'd like to attend the University of California, Davis, for college in the future.

Eddie and his brother live with their parents, Bill and Minsook Llewellyn – plus a dog, fish and cats – in Clearlake. When he isn't acing tests, Eddie also enjoys playing video games and baseball, taking Tae Kwon Do classes, and playing in the school music program's new rock and roll band, along with Joey.

Bill Llewellyn said both boys have attended Lower Lake Elementary since preschool.

“And it's a heck of a chore to get either one out of bed in the morning or to tidy up their room; but I'm not complaining,” he said.



Eddie Llewellyn receives congratulations from the Konocti Unified School District Board of Trustees in November 2008. Photo courtesy of Steve and Mandy Curtis.



Working at a higher level

McFarland said she doesn't have Kayla for math lessons.

Instead, the 10-year-old walks next door to Lower Lake High School, where she takes algebra with the high schoolers, said McFarland.

“She was on the radar last year for doing really superb work,” said McFarland.

So McFarland said Lower Lake Elementary Principal Greg Mucks decided he wanted to do something different when it came to challenging Kayla, who had already skipped a grade.

That's when they decided to let her try high school algebra. McFarland said when she asks Kayla about how her daily lessons are, her one-word response usually is, “Easy.”

Keeping gifted students interested and not bored is a challenge for educators, said McFarland, who explained that her approach is to focus students toward the high end of achievement, to give them something to shoot for. Every class, she said, has a wide variety of aptitudes, which is what makes teaching a challenging profession.

Kayla's parents, Steve and Mandy Curtis of Lower Lake, said Kayla has always been intellectually precocious.

“She talked real early, she did everything real early,” said Mandy Curtis.

Steve Curtis said his wife read to Kayla nonstop when she was a baby. Mandy Curtis' mom wrote Kayla little books, and with all of that encouragement – plus a little help from Dr. Seuss – the youngster figured out how to read on her own. By the time she got to kindergarten, she could read to her class.

Kayla's first-grade teacher was perplexed about what to do with her, so the Curtises said their daughter did first and second grade at the same time.

“Her teachers have been really, really great about challenging her,” Mandy Curtis said, adding that the teachers are encouraging Kayla to try new things.

Kayla is a straight-A student whose particular strengths are math and science, and who does extra credit. “It's hard to keep her from not being bored,” Mandy Curtis said.



Kayla Curtis also was honored by the Konocti Unified School District Board of Trustees in November 2008 for achieving a perfect math score on the STAR test. Photo courtesy of Steve and Mandy Curtis.



Her parents say she's always starving for new tests when it comes to math. When she was little, she was constantly asking them to make up math tests for her.

“She still does that,” said Steve Curtis, who called his daughter “his little calculator.”

Kayla's skills also extend to writing, and now she's getting into sports, particularly soccer and basketball, and is clog dancing as well, the Curtises said. Her younger brother, Cole, who is 8, also is a good student and excels in math.

Her parents say Kayle has mentioned all sort of possible future careers, including nursing and medicine – she loves to watch documentaries on surgeries, and has never been squeamish. “She likes the gross stuff,” Mandy Curtis said.

Kayla's gifts also have presented her and her family with a dilemma. She is so advanced that Mucks has suggested sending her straight to high school, where her parents said it's estimated she could finish in as little as a year and a half.

“We're trying to keep her a kid as long as we can,” said Steve Curtis, who noted that he doesn't want a Doogie Howser, referring to the television show about the boy genius who becomes a doctor when only a young teenager.

“The hardest thing I think is not putting her forward,” Steve Curtis admits.

However, she and her parents are in agreement that it's more important to let her just be a kid – albeit a really, really smart one – for the time being. That means letting the very social Kayla stay with her friends – who she doesn't want to leave – and grow along with them.

McFarland gives a big helping of praise to her star students' parents, who she called “fantastic” for their level of encouragement and support.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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