Angela speaking

Central DeWitt Community School Board member Angela Rheingans gestures during a conversation about Iowa’s new standardized assessments in the school district’s Administration Building.

The Central DeWitt School Board got its first peak at reports stemming from the first batch of new standardized tests that were taken this past spring throughout the state. 

The reason for a switch to a different test was to align with the Iowa Core Curriculum, which is necessary under new federal requirements that also are tied to funding. The new tests — called the Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress (ISASP) — were taken for the first time by roughly 360,000 Iowa students this past spring. 

The new exams take the place of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, which students had taken for decades. Ironically, the same organization that administered the old test — Iowa Testing Programs, through the Department of Education at the University of Iowa — also developed the new test.

In the new assessment, all students in nine grade levels — third through 11th —are evaluated on their performance for two main subject areas: language-arts and math. Students in three grade levels — fifth, eighth and 10th — also will be tested on science. 

ISASP results have been or are in the process of being mailed to the parents of each student. 

In the meantime, the school district also is looking over data that shows how its proficiency scores stack up in comparison to statewide averages. 

The school board did not go through the reports in detail, but Assistant Superintendent Jen Vance noted that students in the Central DeWitt Community School District showed proficiency percentages that surpassed statewide averages in 17 of the 21 “acheivement levels” that were tested. 

“There were four areas where we fell below the state’s proficiency numbers, but we were not very far off from any of those four, I can tell you that,” said Vance. 

Vance and Superintendent Dan Peterson are hoping that the district again will be able to see how other districts around the state are scoring on the tests. It is not clear if and when that capability will be available.

The new test results also cannot be compared in any way to the results of tests administered in the past. The district also will have to wait another year to see how students are progressing. 

Nonetheless, there also is a lot to like about the new tests and the subsequent report cards.   

Scores for each “achievement level” (third-grade language arts, third-grade math, etc.) now are broken down into several “domains” that will better pinpoint students’ strengths and weaknesses. 

For example, the test results showed a glaring deficiency for geometry that played a big role in bringing down the overall district score for 10th-grade math. That information is good to know because geometry concepts had not yet been introduced to the students prior to test-taking.

Board members noted their approval of the domain breakdowns. Vance noted that the same level of detail is available all the way down to individual classrooms and students.

“I just handed off the assessments to the fifth-grade teachers showing them where the students had struggled with the material as fourth-graders when they took the test,” said Vance, noting that it will give teachers some valuable insight.

Vance also expressed her support for the incorporation of essay and constructed-

response questions in addition to multiple-choice questions to better illustrate the depth of students’ understanding of the subject matter.

Vance’s support for the inclusion of written answers was echoed by Angela Rheingans, who was elected vice chair of the school board earlier during the meeting. 

“This is a long time coming, when we’re talking about the robustness of the report,” she said. “We can dig in and find out where we need to improve.

“But also the structure that you just mentioned,” Rheingans said. “It makes for a more difficult test, but those essays and short answers are what our students need when they become adults.”  

New school board member has big shoes to fill

One after another, her peers described her in the same way: Poised, role model, a collaborator, a good listener and “steady as a rock.”

Before Christy Kunz stepped down from the Central DeWitt School Board after 12 years of service, her cohorts couldn’t pass up the chance to praise her one more time.

Then she turned the tables and praised all of them. 

“I started on the board two months after Dan (Peterson) became superintendent,” said Kunz, who then listed off the current and former members she has served alongside. “All of these people were serving for the all the right reasons: It was ‘students first’ in whatever it was that we were discussing.”

She said she can exit the board with her head held high. She recalls the fast and furious effort to educate the public about a $25 million bond measure for school construction.

“We passed a proposal to build a school after the nine previous proposals were voted down,” she said. She noted that voters not only passed the construction proposal by a wide margin, it also gained wide approval for an accompanying name change.

Kunz, vice president of operations for Junior Achievement USA, pointed out some other successes.

She noted that enrollment at Central DeWitt has defied the trend of declining enrollments in rural areas, and she is proud to see the technological gains in the classrooms. 

Kunz’s exit opened the door for Bob Gannon, of Delmar, to join the school board.

Gannon is a married father of three children who attend St. Joseph School in DeWitt. He is a farmer who also works full time as a seedsman for the Channel Seed Division of Bayer CropScience.