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District achievement data shows slow progress

Some areas continue to see little improvement

Posted: September 28, 2011 - 11:08pm

Achievement data for Juneau School District shows progress in many areas, although it is much slower to show gains than district administrators would like to see. Other areas of data show the district continues to fail to reach some sectors of students.

The JSD Board of Education now has a large amount of data, with the second year of MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) testing data and more historic trends also available from other tests reaching their fifth year of implementation.

The data itself are mixed on how well the district is doing at teaching its students.

Progress is apparent via MAP and Terra Nova — both national-normed tests — and some areas of the Standards Based Assessment, a state test.

Phil Loseby — coordinator for assessment, program evaluation and academic response to intervention — reviewed the data with the board on Wednesday.

Loseby reviewed the data from two standpoints — progress in improvement and in performance.

Performance data compare the scores of one particular grade with the same grade the prior test year — last year’s first-grade test scores with this year’s first-grade test scores.

"What we would expect to see if we are improving in our ability?" Loseby asked. "We would expect to see an increase over time."

Reading assessments given to students in kindergarten through fifth-grades show improvement, but the graphs show a notable drop in success for students in grades 2-3, and some drop in first-graders’ achievement.

The Terra Nova test, administered to fifth- and seventh-graders, showed significant gains in proficiency for fifth-graders over last year. Seventh-grade also saw a fair increase.

MAP testing looks at students performing at grade level and tests them three times a year. Most categories showed students performing at or above the national norm of 60 percent proficiency by the end of the year, though elementary grades did not.

Elementary grades in reading were nearing the 60 percent threshold, though grades two and three are the furthest behind. Second-grade made almost a 10 percent gain in the number meeting year-end goals over last year in MAP data, while grade three saw a decrease.

MAP data on reading, which tests K-10 students, showed students in most grades were above 60 percent meeting end-of-year benchmarks. Grades 1-3 were below the national threshold. The elementary grades saw the largest diversity in data, however. For example in kindergarten, only 13 percent of students came in already meeting year-end proficiency measures. By the end of the year, 62 percent met that threshold.

Those large gaps narrow more significantly beginning in middle school, but gaps are marginal in high school.

SBAs in reading saw a small decrease, but scores were still above 80 percent proficiency.

Language usage was also measured in testing, with similar results to reading. Grades 2-10 are tested in this category for MAP. Most grades saw increases in meeting benchmarks, but grade 10 saw an approximate 25 percent drop from last year.

MAP data showing growth trends throughout the year per grade showed the highest level of students meeting year-end goals in grades 7-8, with 74 and 77 percent (respectively) meeting those goals.

SBA data show decreases in many areas for writing.

Language use in Terra Nova tests showed significant improvements in fifth-grade, and a slight improvement in seventh-grade. SBA's saw little growth, but growth none the less of 2.1 percent proficiency over last year.

Math was again a low point for students in grades 2 and 3 in MAP testing, though gains were made in both grade levels over last year. First-grade saw a significant jump in the number of students meeting the goals — by more than 30 percent. All but two grade levels saw some level of progress.

In the data showing percentage of students meeting district goals by the end of the year, elementary students again lagged behind later grades. Second- and third-grade were at 414 and 47 percent of students meeting thresholds, while grades 7-10 had 72-78 percent of students meeting expectations.

Terra Nova math scores both saw improvement, with fifth-grade again making the largest gains over the prior year.

SBA's showed a notable increase in science proficiency, with an approximate 9 percent gain.

"Data would reflect that we’re not seeing significant sorts of improvements," said boardmember Mark Choate. "Candidly, I don’t think I expected that. From this data, can we tell what is working? Can you actually identify what is making a difference in our achievement so that we can support that? Similarly, and I think this is the politically difficult question, what is not working? That is our job as politicians. It doesn’t do us any good if we have the data and disregard it."

Choate also pointed out the results show the district is still failing to reach Alaska Native students.

“There is truly no impact on what looks like a group of primarily Alaska Native kids,” he said. “We’re not affecting them. There’s a group that does real well, because they always do well, but there's a large percentage that does not.”

Choate also focused on elementary achievement levels.

"Elementary levels are disturbing," he said. "We’re not even close to mid-level proficiency. That should be a wake-up call. We do know the kids, their future is often dependent upon where they’re at at third-grade."

Choate said he wants to know what is and isn't working in the schools based upon the data so they're prepared for the upcoming budget sessions.

Boardmember Barbara Thurston suggested alternative ways to graph the data to show how much individual students are actually learning.

She said if a student doesn't meet proficiency or the standards, it'd be nice to be able to see how much progress they made to get where they did.

On the other hand, she also wants to make sure that in areas where upper grade levels are showing marginal gaps in MAP data — where students are coming in at 60 and 70 percent meeting year-end goals — that they're still getting a year’s worth of progress.

"So we're looking at not just 'yes or no' are they passing," she said. "How much have they learned?"

Loseby told the board this is the first year in many that he's been excited to come and share the data. For the past several years data have showen stagnant results.

“How are we doing relative to national expectations? We’re doing better than we have," he said. “Are we happy with where we’re at? No. We all agree we want to improve, we want to get better. This is the first time I’ve been excited to come and share because of the positive news."

He addressed the data involving Alaska Native students. He said the system needs to address the needs of those students, and that it's upon the district to reach them.

"To say these youngsters aren’t doing well suggest that it’s on the youngsters," Loseby said. "We’re the ones that need to change."

Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich agreed with Loseby.

"Our contract with the community is reaching every student," Gelbrich said. "Our data tells us that in a number of ways, things are getting better. That’s our job is to get better. It isn’t at the pace any of us would like to see. From my perspective are what’s working are things you see on the Strategic Plan. Not because it was my idea. Those are the things that produce high performing school districts. "

The board will look at "next steps" at its board retreat Friday and Saturday, along with other topics.

Gelbrich also touched on the budget in relation to this data, warning of more cuts ahead.

"We will bring pretty concrete examples of what we believe should and shouldn’t be funded," he said. "Everything points to that last year’s budget cycle was a warm up to what we’re facing in the year ahead."

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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