Minds and Matter: Two years left to get all kids proficient
by Kevin J. Hatfield, School Superintendent · Op-Ed · September 28, 2012

Iowa’s accountability system requires all school districts/schools to annually demonstrate improvement towards the state’s annual goals in reading and mathematics as allowed for by No Child Left Behind guidelines.

All Iowa districts are expected to have 100 percent of students proficient by 2014. Because of the use of unified accountability trajectory, all districts, subgroups within districts, buildings, and building subgroups (of at least 30 students or more) are expected to attain the state’s predefined “trajectory” benchmarks.

This past year, the West Branch Community Schools “met” Annual Yearly Progress (AYP), yet four areas were designated for “watch status.” Districts and schools identified as being on the NCLB/AYP “watch status” missed at least one of the AYP state targets for the first time during the past year. Watch status schools are not subject to NCLB sanctions. The designation only serves as a reminder that missing AYP set targets in the same area the following year can result in a School in Need of Assistance (SINA) designation.

“Watch Status” identification at Hoover Elementary School occurred in math and reading for students meeting “Low Socio-Economic Status.” This designated “subgroup” of students met federal poverty guidelines in grades 3-5 for the 2011-12 school year.

In math, 25 of the 41 qualified LSES students in grades 3-5 were “proficient” using State of Iowa’s defined level of “proficiency” and “Full Academic Year” growth factor determinations. (23+2)/41 = 60.98 percent.

In reading, 25 of the 40 qualified LSES students in grades 3-5 were “proficient” using the State of Iowa’s defined level of “proficiency” and “Full Academic Year” growth factor determinations. (23+2)/41 = 60.98 percent.

“Watch Status” (one year comparison drop) identification occurred at the West Branch Middle School as well. The “All Students” category failed to meet the AYP total reading proficiency predetermined and increasing trajectory. It should be noted that the LSES students at the Middle School met the AYP targets in both reading and math.

Middle School “All Student” Reading Total calculations: (119+0)/160 = 74.38 percent.

Iowa’s “proficient trajectories” were determined in 2003 by the Iowa Department of Education. The trajectories for math and reading were designed to provide “benchmarks” of reaching “all students 100 percent proficient by 2012” NCLB requirements.

West Branch High School met AYP annual measurable objectives in reading and math again last year. The District is also listed at meeting AYP academic indicators and objectives in attendance rates and graduation rates.

The District’s Professional Response: As I shared at the start of the 2012-13 school year, the district has begun to use a more pronounced strategic and tactical process. Multiple teams of teachers are involved in collaborative “data team” processes. Teachers are looking closely at student achievement data and student work on a weekly basis. This work is part of our Professional Learning Community (PLC) initiative. The process requires: 1) Routine analysis at student achievement data and student work, 2) Team development of formative assessments designed to track data more routinely to allow for the professional selection of “best practice” strategies to be implemented, recorded and analyzed by the team which creates an environment of ongoing, “short-cycle,” more timely “response-to-intervention” processes.

While annual “standardized test scores” provide valuable data points related to the “relative skills of strength and weakness,” they can often paint misguided or limited judgments on the overall effectiveness of the teaching and learning happening in schools.

Our stakeholders care deeply about student learning and student success. I have an unshakable confidence on our staffs’ ability to continue to guide our students to reach all-time highs in student achievement and in authentic intellectual work and which annual multiple choice assessments provide only limited insights on.

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