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Raising the bar

SOLON– The results are in. Solon students did about as well last year on their Iowa Test of Basic Skills and Iowa Tests of Educational Development as they did the year before.
The Solon School Board met with Curriculum Coordinator Colin Williams and Interim Superintendent Darrell Smith on Tuesday to discuss the results at a work session. There, board members brainstormed how to raise scores that, while good, still have room for improvement.
“It’s where you set the bar, quite frankly,” said board president, Dave Asprey. “We don’t have some of the challenges that some of the other districts have, so maybe our bar should be a little higher.”
On average, Solon students tested at higher than 80 percent proficiency in both math and reading comprehension when compared to their peers. Delving deeper into the numbers, though, board members commented on the need to improve early computation skills, to foster a lifelong interest in reading, and to better prepare middle school students for their transition from Lakeview.
Superintendent Smith said district teachers are already adjusting their teaching methods based on the results in an effort to improve. For example, Smith said teachers are trying to improve computation skills at the elementary level by implementing techniques such as rote learning through flash cards.
“I have observed that teachers at the elementary are working on this and I believe they will be successful,” Smith said after the meeting in an e-mail to the Economist.
On the subject of reading computation, board members wondered aloud how the district can do a better job of getting students interested in reading while competing against a modern world filled with technological bric-a-brac.
Board member Tim Brown said with so many options out there for kids, it’s important that a love of reading is instilled from an early age.
“You’re got to get to the point where kids want to read on their own,” Brown said. “It’s just a culture where you’ve got to catch them early.”
“Do kids read anymore?” asked Schwab.
In response, Smith suggested that it might not even be the lack of reading that is the problem.
“Kids today read a lot of books, but they might not be as proficient at understanding what they’re reading,” he said.
Curriculum Coordinator Williams said the standardized test results could be used to decide what specialized skills, like reading comprehension, the district should focus on when making decisions about improving curriculum.
“If kids already know what we’re teaching should we be teaching it earlier, or should we be moving on to a separate set of skills?” Williams asked.
In analyzing results, board members noted that standardized test scores tended to drop when classes of students transitioned from elementary to middle school. The scores then raised again as the students entered high school.
Smith said this is a typical phenomenon among school districts.
“I think we’re not unique as far as middle schools go,” he said. “If you put a graph of the scores of 90 percent of the school districts out there, you’d see similar results.”
Board member Brown suggested that the district could help middle school students do better by improving their organizational skills to help with a challenging workload at an equally challenging age.
“Since about the beginning of time, middle school has been a difficult time for kids,” Brown said.
On the whole, Schwab said what he would like to see the district do is outline a clear goal for improving results.
“The one thing that I don’t see as much as I’d like to see is expectations,” he said. “What we need to do is start to build a culture of higher expectations.”
Asprey said the board will be looking to refocus its priorities in the coming months, aligning with the arrival of new superintendent Sam Miller. He said Miller has some ideas on developing the curriculum coordinator position formerly held by Ross Abels and currently filled on a part-time basis by Williams.
“That individual may play a significant role in the process,” Asprey said. “Stay tuned, discussion on that position will be coming back to us shortly.”