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home : news : news Saturday, January 24, 2015

3/23/2013 Email this articlePrint this article 
Drop in Central elementary test scores causes concern

By Jeremy Huss
Staff writer

Drops in test scores among several elementary and intermediate grades prompted concern among members of the Central Community School Board when it reviewed the results Wednesday night, March 13.

The decrease in test scores spread across multiple grade levels but was most significant in third grade, where the percentage of students proficient in reading and math fell by 25 percent and 33 percent, respectively. The number of students showing proficiency in science fell by 13 percent.

Data are based on the results of the Iowa Assessments, the state's annual measure of academic growth that last year replaced the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) and Iowa Test of Educational Development (ITED).

According to the results, third-grade reading proficiency at Central fell from 96 to 71 percent, while math proficiency fell from 93 to 60 percent and science proficiency decreased from 97 to 84 percent.

Proficiency in fourth grade increased 2 percent in reading, 1 percent in math and 5 percent in science.

In fifth grade, scores dipped 3 percent in reading, 9 percent in math and 7 percent in science.

Sixth-grade students saw a greater disparity, with scores dropping 13 percent in reading, 16 percent in math and 8 percent in science.

Elementary principal Jennifer Vance, who is in her first year with the district, presented a plan for responding to the test results.

She said the elementary immediately ordered test booklets when the results were received in order to look at individual questions to determine where students are falling off track.

Since then, staff have analyzed the performance of individual students, classrooms and grade levels and created intervention plans to assist with small group and individual instruction in order to remediate skill deficits, she said.

Staff have modified classroom instruction based on the findings and continued professional development on the Iowa Core Curriculum, specifically math, she said, and they will continue implementing intervention plans for math and language arts and working on professional development efforts.

Other steps the elementary will take through the end of the year and the start of next school year include:

•Administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment at the middle or end of the year.

•Look for opportunities to increase instructional time.

•Work on a framework for instruction to provide consistency in instruction across grade levels.

•Compile and share data with 2013/14 receiving teachers to ensure a smooth transition and to know learning profiles of students prior to the start of the 2013/14 school year.

•Administer beginning of the year assessments to establish a baseline.

•Begin the intervention process using beginning-of-the-year data and create intervention plans to focus on small group/individualized instruction to remediate skill deficits.

•Review test-taking strategies.

•Conduct test talks prior to administering the assessment.

Intermediate/middle school principal Jim Wichman said there is no "silver bullet" to improve test scores but staff will be working to improve instruction.

Elementary students took the Iowa Assessment in October, Vance said, which was a change from past years when annual testing was completed in January and February.

Board member Jim Irwin commented the change in timing may have impacted test scores.

He also placed blame on former principal Matt Marietta, who resigned after a single year in the position.

"We had a tough year at the elementary last year, so that could be some of it. The morale at that building last year was a little different than today," Irwin said.

Wichman said there are a lot of variables that can impact student results, but the important issue is how the district responds.

"It is what it is. Now what are we going to do about it? It's one piece of the puzzle, but it's an important one because it gets publicized," he said.

Board member Jennifer Naeve asked how other districts scored on the test but was told statewide results aren't yet available.

"I look at this as a state problem, not a Central problem. The state pushes the Iowa Core but doesn't help implement it and doesn't give a good roadmap," she said.

"Another variable is the way kids are taught to think is different than 42 times 35," said director of innovation and instruction Amy Wichman,

"Maybe a low core or a dip means our teachers are doing a great job teaching our kids to think critically, but the assessment doesn't fully conform with the Iowa Core," she said.

Board member Steve Fuglsang said he has questions about whether the core curriculum aligns properly with the test.

"I want to hear we're aligning curriculum to the assessment and to the Iowa Core," he said.

Board members noted the test scores in question are an "apples to oranges" comparison because they look at scores from this year's third grade and last year's third grade (current fourth grade), rather than tracking the same group of students.

Board member Kurt Rickard said the "apples to apples" comparison shows scores in the current second grade are in even worse shape than last year.

"To me, as an observer, it says somewhere in K-1 we're not getting the job done," Rickard said.

Irwin asked what is done differently at the high school in regard to testing.

Test results in ninth, 10th and 11th grade varied, with some categories showing increased proficiency and others showing decreases, but all scores were consistently in the 80-90 percentile range, including 98 percent proficiency in 11th grade reading, 88 percent proficiency in 11th grade math and 93 percent proficiency in 11th grade science.

The "apples to apples" comparison showed improvement across the board for high school grades.

High school principal George Pickup said the high school underwent an attitude change after extremely poor test results in the 2007/08 school year.

Staff identified struggling students and placed them in a reading intervention program but also focused on student motivation and the "pride factor" to improve the test-taking culture, Pickup said.

"Our test-taking culture was not very good at the high school. It is good now," he said.

"This is a snapshot. It's important, but we have to focus on the day to day or we'll fail students in other ways," Pickup added.

Rickard said the school has made personnel cuts in recent years that affected early elementary grades, such as eliminating some associate positions.

"I would like to know, is the board making bad decisions affecting the elementary?" he asked.

If students can't read, they won't be able to show proficiency on the math or science tests either, he said.

"We need to ensure we can meet proficiency. If it's resources, we need to find resources for those kids," he said.

"It's not just resources. It's how we use them," Vance said.

She said elementary staff need to ensure associates are being used most effectively by looking at scheduling and making sure staff are focused on the right things.

Rickard said the school board can make "midway course corrections" if needed to improve student performance. He asked about receiving quarterly reports of academic progress and what specific actions can be taken to improve scores.

Vance said the elementary can share other data that show a more promising outlook.

"I feel like our other benchmarks show educational growth," she said.

The growth can be documented through the intervention process and results of the MAP assessment and other tests, she said.

Family resource center director Amanda Greubel said the district initiated an after-school math program two years ago that helped improve student performance after six weeks.

"Teachers have asked for that the last two years and there's no funding," she said.

Jim Wichman said the intermediate school will share the results of its MAP assessment with the school board in June.

Naeve asked whether the October test date is the right choice.

Wichman said there are good arguments for and against testing at whatever time of year, but the purpose of early testing is so staff have data sooner that allows them to impact the students.


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