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School board gets 'first impressions' of testing data at retreat

Posted: August 29, 2012 - 12:52pm

Performance, trends on assessments examined

At its retreat Tuesday afternoon at the University of Alaska Southeast, the Juneau School District Board of Education viewed and discussed data from student assessments, finding some results to cheer and others that elicited some dismay.

Phil Loseby, the district’s assessment coordinator, projected graphs and charts showing trends in the data for Measures of Academic Progress and Standards Based Assessment test results, which members of the board looked over with interest.

School board member Mark Choate, who is retiring this year, expressed some frustration over data not being released for members to study before Tuesday.

“I really think it’s a bad practice to show up and get the data at the meeting,” Choate said. “That concerns me, because we’re supposed to be understanding the data and we’re supposed to be working with it. … I feel a little bit like we’re just going to be told about data and we’re not going to be able to use it.”

Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich was sympathetic to Choate’s concerns.

“I think the point is well made, and it’s what we would want. The data wasn’t available to us for a number of reasons,” Gelbrich responded. “We had hoped that we might be able to get it out to you in the middle of last week. … That just didn’t happen.”

Instead of simply receiving and digesting all of the pertinent data in one session, board members could get “first impressions” of the data and discuss it at future meetings, Gelbrich suggested.

Among the charts Loseby presented were MAP results comparing district performance over the past three school years, broken out into subgroups of Native students, students with disabilities, limited English proficient (LEP) students and economically disadvantaged students, as well as a subgroup for the total student population minus those groups.

“We have not been successful as a system in meeting the needs of students in those three special populations,” said Loseby, referring to the groups of students with disabilities, LEP students and economically disadvantaged students.

Of the Native student population, Loseby added, “Quite honestly, the Alaska Native, American Indian youngsters are heavily impacted … in terms of poverty, in terms of being identified as limited English proficient.”

“Do we have any special way of focusing on their needs, focusing on them?” Choate asked. “They’re clearly the ones who are most affected by poverty, language, maybe disability as well.”

Board member Phyllis Carlson expressed a similar sentiment about addressing students in poverty who underperform their peers.

“We know this stuff. We’ve known this stuff,” said Carlson. “What guidance are the buildings getting in their accountability plan, their plan to address those youngsters? Because again, this is not news.”

Carlson added, “This data always makes me extremely frustrated because I just don’t see us actually addressing it, and I don’t understand how in our system we can continue to ignore this very important, high-need group.”

“I’m as impatient as you are,” Gelbrich replied. “But I do want to be as clear as possible that … we have had an entrepreneurial system where people have to do as best they can in the absence of a system. … Until we build that system of instruction, those kids, as they move from school to school to school, are going to fall through the cracks.”

Gelbrich cited the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program as an example of how the school district is working to build a more cohesive system of standardized instruction.

“I think there’s some evidence that we’re moving,” said Gelbrich. “But we’re not moving fast enough for anybody.”

In addition to showing the special populations and Native student population consistently performing well below the district population as a whole, with students with disabilities and LEP students showing the most significant deviation, Loseby’s data also showed that overall, tenth-grade students are not performing as well on their MAP assessments as eighth-graders. The eighth-grade population has frequently performed the best of any grade in the district.

Board member Barbara Thurston related a personal anecdote about her son not performing as well as his teacher expected on one of his tenth-grade MAP tests because he knew it would not affect his class grade and he had other work he was told he could do after completing the test. She said the data suggested that phenomenon was not limited to her child only.

“I look at this, and I say either the test doesn’t mean anything, or we have some serious learning and teaching problems,” Thurston said. “And I think it’s probably the former. I don’t really think our students are losing ground as badly as that says.”

Thurston was frank in her assessment of the situation.

“If we are committed to keeping MAPs in tenth grade, then we need to be committed to making it valuable,” Thurston continued. “And if we’re not going to have a plan to make it valuable, then maybe we should ditch tenth-grade MAPs.”

Tenth grade is currently the highest grade level that is assessed via MAP testing, which is tied to national standards.

There were some bright spots in the data Loseby presented.

Eighth-graders in the population group excluding Native and special population students also hit 91 percent of “class level” on MAP-assessed reading proficiency and 92 percent on language usage proficiency in the 2011-12 school year, exceeding the 90 percent goal set by the school district.

“Most of the graphs you’ve showed us tonight, there is an upward trend,” said Thurston to Loseby, noting that it appears many Juneau students improve in their testing performance from kindergarten to eighth grade. “To me, that says we’re doing something right.”

Line graphs comparing the JSD’s performance to the Alaskan average on the SBA, which is utilized in assessing Adequate Yearly Progress, showed Juneau students as a whole outperforming the average in math, reading and writing.

At a summit on Aug. 30 at Thunder Mountain High School, the JSD will share more school-specific data and delve deeper into SBA results with interested members of the public. That summit will begin at 6:30 p.m. and will include a session on the District Improvement Plan.

More data will be presented at the board’s Sept. 11 meeting as part of a full achievement report, Gelbrich said.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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