Washington Evening Journal

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Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 17, 2017

Getting the grades

By David Hotle | Jun 13, 2013

During a discussion about the results of proficiency and growth testing, Washington School Board president Eric Turner said that Stewart and Washington High School (WHS) always do well on the testing, while Lincoln and Washington Middle School (WMS) fluctuate.
When the results of the 2012-13 testing were given, the classes at Stewart and WHS had achieved the goals set at the beginning of last year, while WMS and Lincoln had not. Despite some of the classes missing the goals, the school board discussed the improvement that was shown in the classes.
“I think overall the data we saw is encouraging,” Washington Schools Superintendent Mike Jorgensen said. “I think in the past when we have looked at Iowa basic skills tests and talked about proficiency scores, the scores were a year below grade level. These tests actually test at grade level and I was seeing in the 70 percent range.”
The numbers were from the reading and math tests. The tests are designed to determine how well students are learning compared to national levels. Jorgensen said that the tests were given to all students in the district, including special-needs students. He also said the percentages are based on the number of students who demonstrate proficiency, not the average scores the students earn on the tests.
Board member Stephanie Ellingson, also a member of the district’s data team, distributed the scores during Wednesday’s regular meeting.
Stewart Elementary easily met its goal of 75 percent proficiency — or showing one year’s growth — for reading, with 86.5 percent proficiency when the tests were given in the winter, and 81.7 percent on the spring tests. In math computation, Stewart students scored 79.2 percent proficiency in the fall and 88 percent in the spring, meeting the 85 percent goal. The math application test showed Stewart students demonstrating 51.9 percent proficiency in the fall and 91.7 percent in the spring, meeting the 75 percent goal.
Lincoln School missed its 75 percent reading proficiency goal, with students showing 46 percent proficiency in the fall and 62 percent proficiency in the spring. In math, Lincoln students earned a 23 percent proficiency in the fall and a 61 percent proficiency in the spring, missing the 75 percent goal.
WMS students missed the 80 percent goal on the reading test, earning a 48 percent proficiency level in the fall and a 74 percent in the spring. In the math testing, the students earned 69 percent proficiency while the goal was 85 percent. Jorgensen said that the eighth grade had scored 89 percent proficiency, but the overall average was 69 percent.
WHS missed the 90 percent reading proficiency goal, with students in grades nine through 11 earning 88.3 percent proficiency. In the math proficiency testing, the school earned 91 percent proficiency with a 90 percent goal.
Jorgensen said that while not all goals were met, the students had shown growth. He said there are some theories why the scores at Lincoln and WMS fluctuate between meeting goals and not.
“I hate to say it, but those are the hormonal grades where kids’ interest may fluctuate,” he said. “I think when kids are really young they are eager, but when they are nearing graduation and kind of have a goal in sight, sometimes in the middle, those kids get tired of being tested and have a little bit of an attitude. I also think maybe grades four through eight are getting into more new concepts that are a bit of a challenge for kids. I don’t think our instruction is worse. I think that when you go from second grade to the next levels, you get challenged more.”    
Jorgensen said the district gives the tests because the district can give the tests several times during the year to measure student growth. He said the test is also based on what the grade level should be.
He said the goal of the test is to help identify students who are below grade level to get them help. While discussing teacher accountability based on the test results, he said determining where a problem began would be difficult based only on the scores, as a problem holding a student back may have begun years earlier.
“If you take a look at what is happening at the high school level, we are getting them there,” Jorgensen said. “Sometimes they are still behind grade level for a few years, but by the time they graduate, we have 90 percent up to above proficiency. When you factor that it’s all kids, including special needs, including disabilities, that 90 percent is a pretty impressive figure.”
In other business, the board:
• selected five points of focus for the Iowa Association of School Board to lobby the state for during the coming year;
• accepted a $15,000 bid for three years of athletic training  services from Jet Physical Therapy. Turner abstained from the vote;
• approved the sale of district land containing a radar tower for $20,000 after a public hearing on the sale. No public comment was given;
• approved allowing the University of Iowa to perform a survey on English Language Learning students in the district;
• discussed board goals for the coming year. The board discussed keeping its learning proficiency, parental involvement and communications goals from last year, and adding either a goal to encourage college credit courses at the high school level or encourage extra-curricular participation. The issue will be further discussed at the next meeting that will be held at 7 p.m. July 10 at WHS.

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