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Progress measurement a catch-22

OXFORD– The Clear Creek Amana (CCA) school district has released its Annual Progress Report (APR) for the 2010-2011 academic year. Superintendent Dr. Denise Schares presented the report, which is made available to the public, at the Oct. 19 school board work session and regular meeting in the Clear Creek Elementary library in Oxford.
Schares prefaced the report with an overview of the report’s purpose and value. It is used to revise, if necessary, the district’s Comprehensive School Improvement Plan. The report is also an annual requirement under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. The APR is used in conjunction with other assessment tools such as the Iowa Assessment tests. Schares noted there could be a change coming as the state explores education reform.
“We’re watching it very closely,” she said.
A key measure on the APR is Annual Yearly Progress (AYP), an assessment that determines if students are achieving at a specified level. If a school doesn’t meet AYP, it is then designated as a School In Need of Assistance (SINA). The designation can be deceptive to a point, which was reinforced during last year’s presentation. As a school reaches a level of performance, it then is held to a higher standard, which drops it into SINA status.
“It’s like nailing Jell-O to a tree,” former board president Tim Hennes said previously.
In other words, a school can alternate between compliance and non-compliance even though students are making improvement.
“We met AYP this year, where we didn’t last year,” Schares said, referring to improvements in middle school math proficiency. However, a dip in reading proficiency has put the school back on the SINA list.
“The water is coming out of a different hole,” Middle School Principal Brad Fox said.
The report Schares presented provides a snapshot look at math, reading and science scores for all students in a particular group, such as the class of 2013. Charts follow the students in a stair step direction as they progress from third grade to 11th. Students in third grade in 2008 improved scores in 2009 as fourth graders. They dipped in 2010 as fifth graders and dipped even lower this year as sixth graders.
“We’re concerned,” Schares said noting the historical trend; the same group also dipped in mathematics and science. Schares listed possible causes such as a problem with the test, students trying to adjust from elementary school to middle school and even budding hormones in the pre-teens. She also said this seems to be a statewide trend. Fox said the assessment tests are going to be changed.
“One of the hard things is to break through,” Schares said. “We look at these patterns, understand the variance, and see what else we can do.”
The NCLB act is up for reauthorization, and the Obama administration is already handing out waivers to states, exempting them from its requirements. Iowa is among the states applying for the waiver.
“We’re re-thinking our means of measuring,” Schares said.
The superintendent also discussed the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITSB), given every three years. ITSB social studies and vocabulary tests weren’t always administered in the past, a point of contention and controversy in the district, as they were not required for progress reporting. Schares said the full battery of tests is administered currently. But, it’s a double-edged sword.
“If you don’t tire them out (by not giving students all the tests) you might get better results on the core (match, science and reading),” Schares said, noting the two- to three-hours’ difference in giving all of the tests or not. “If you don’t test, then you don’t have a measure.”
High School Principal Mark Moody said it takes four to six hours for the full array of tests, while Amana Elementary Principal Ben Macumber said the school has “other sources for results” if the full ITBS battery isn’t administered.
Overall, the report states student achievement remains strong, enrollment continues to grow and the variance in scores indicates a “need for further study.” The goal is 99-100 percent proficiency every year in all areas.
“In reality, when the tests change, we may have to re-assess and re-adjust,” Schares added.