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CCA test scores decline

OXFORD– Standardized test scores have dropped in the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) school district, but officials say it isn’t cause for alarm.
Yet.
District Curriculum Director Mark Ernst gave the Annual Progress Report (APR) for the 2011-2012 school year during the school board of directors’ monthly meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 19. The complete report meets the requirements of the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) report necessary under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act, and the APR required under the Iowa Code.
The No Child Left Behind act was signed into law in January 2002. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Judd Gregg (R-NH) co-sponsored the bill in the Senate, where it passed 87-10. Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and John Boehner (R-OH) co-sponsored the bill in the House, where it passed 381-41. Since then, school districts have struggled to meet the requirements.
During his tenure, CCA board president Tim Hennes likened the ever-moving goalposts to “trying to nail Jell-O to a tree.” Iowa Secretary of Education Jason Glass has lobbied the Obama administration unsuccessfully for a waiver from NCLB requirements. The administration has granted such waivers to 33 states in exchange for the states individually setting higher standards, improving accountability requirements and offering other means of education reform.
Under NCLB a school and/or district not hitting target percentages for the number of students proficient in a given subject are initially placed on a watch list. Failure to improve leads to either School In Need of Assistance (SINA) or District In Need of Assistance (DINA) status. During the 2010-2011 school year, the district was listed for falling short in its Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO) for math while the Middle School was listed for falling short in reading. Clear Creek Elementary in Oxford was placed on the watch list for math and reading.
Overall, test scores for the 2011-2012 school year were down from the previous school year in reading, math and science.
In reading, all grades assessed (grades four through eight and 11) saw a decline, and not just in comparing 2010 scores to 2011. Ernst called that comparing apples to oranges. Rather, a cohort is looked at. Following scores for those who were third graders in 2007, the chart shows that just over 71 percent of the group met proficiency standards in third grade, while 80.5 percent did so a year later as fourth graders. The class dipped to almost 76 percent in fifth grade, dipped again to 68 percent in sixth grade, and dropped even further to 67 percent in seventh grade.
Comparing the 2010 scores to 2011 shows that the 2011 juniors improved over their 2012 counterparts, but a look at the 2011 juniors and how they did as sophomores (in 2010) shows they dropped from 81 percent proficiency to 79 percent.
Ernst’s data showed CCA’s fourth and eighth graders were better than the state average, but the juniors were below.
In math, the 2007 third graders showed 80 percent proficiency as seventh graders last year, and were one of two groups to show an improvement over their 2010 performance.
Ernst prefaced the test results for science by noting that, while in grades three through eight it is one curriculum for all, the high school students choose different paths of study starting their freshman year. Different paths can lead to different outcomes on the standardized test, he said.
Ernst said the biggest reason for the lower test results was a switch in assessments. Previously, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (elementary and middle school) and the Iowa Tests of Educational Development (high school) used “Form A and Form B” versions of the examinations. The “Iowa Assessment” has since replaced those tests for all grade levels. In 2011, the tests were switched to “Form E,” which Ernst said is aligned with the new Iowa Core Curriculum.
“Proficiency rates can be affected by switching tests, because simply, it is a different test.” Ernst said the district had been using the previous tests since 2002 and noted school districts, “(have) developed and aligned their local curriculum based on studies conducted around Forms A and B.” He also said the shift in curriculums to align with the Iowa Core didn’t begin until recently.
The result, Ernst said, is that curriculum and instruction has not changed enough to reflect Iowa Core outcomes. “But, the test has. Our scores mirror the state trends that have been impacted by this change.” Ernst said current CCA students are being tested on content and skills they either have not yet been taught, or had adequate time to develop.
“One thing I’m noticing,” Ernst said, “with the Iowa Core standards in literacy and math is that some things that used to be taught, for example, in fifth grade are now to be taught in fourth. This seems to be a consensus statewide.”
The new test reflects this shift, “but our materials and instructions have not shifted that fast.” Ernst sees the same declines in districts across the state, which he says points directly to the change in tests. “It’s the one thing we all had in common last year.”
The district’s students will see Form E again this year the week of Oct. 15, and Ernst is eager to compare the results with the 2011 scores, which will be used as a baseline for future improvements or declines. While individual results should be back by early December, the Grant Wood Area Education Agency and the state will tabulate the proficiency rates. Ernst said it could be February before the district has the full report.
The district’s enrollment numbers, particularly from open enrollments and students new to the district, may also account for some of the lower test results. “As we move to the Iowa Core from locally developed standards, we have students coming to us from districts that may have had different grade level expectations.” Ernst noted open enrollment and rapid growth are not definite causes for the change in proficiency rates, but something to be looked at. “In some cases these factors may move the district in a positive direction.”
He also said this issue draws more attention because CCA is growing so fast and cohort groups have greater variation than in a district with less growth.
The district showed 1,922 students on Sept. 20. Last year’s enrollment was 1,786.
While something to keep a close eye on, Ernst cautioned against hitting the panic button just yet. He followed the not-so-good news with results of ACT testing and the fact the district’s scores are the highest in nine years. Again, the report was tempered with a history of up and down years.
A week later, high school principal Mark Moody reported another bright spot in test scores. Curran Beckler, a cross-country runner and the 2012 homecoming king, recently received a letter of commendation for his performance on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT). Beckler placed in the top five percent of the 1.5 million students who took the exam.