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Charles City students test notably higher in English, science

By James Grob,

Students in Charles City Community School District made notable gains in the areas of English language arts and science on the spring 2021 Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress (ISASP).

“We are very happy, but at the same time, we have a lot of room to grow,” said Charles City Superintendent Mike Fisher. “Now we need to lean into the things we need to get better at, but still celebrate the progress we’ve made.”

Fisher credited the hard work of the students and the staff with the improved numbers, and said he was proud of all the progress that’s been made.

“A few years ago, we can’t say that there were a lot of celebrations,” he said. “This year, we have things to celebrate — we are seeing progress and starting to see the fruits of our labor.”

The ISASP is a computer-administered, fixed-form assessment of English language arts and mathematics in grades 3-11 and science in grades 5, 8 and 10. It satisfies a federal requirement, and results are used for federal school classifications and state report cards.

Iowa public school students in grades 3-11 take the assessment each year. The ISASP was not administered in spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Charles City students across nearly all grade levels significantly improved their scores over the 2019 assessment in English language arts. In fact, 96% of middle school students and 95% of high school students demonstrated growth in English.

As a district, Charles City’s scores in English language arts improved by 7.7 percentage points when comparing grade levels.

In math, 93% of middle school and 90% of high school students improved their scores from two years ago. Middle school students improved by about 20 percentage points in science.

Fisher said that Charles City did follow the statewide trends, as English scores seemed to be up statewide while math numbers seem to be down slightly.

He said that a 7.7% increase in English and a 12% increase in science easily met the federal benchmarks of a 5% increase in each subject.

Actually, Fisher was underselling the positive news, as the numbers the district used were the change in percentage points, not the percentage change in value.

The language arts improvement from 53.7% in 2019 to 61.3% in 2021 may be a change of 7.7 percentage points, but it is a 14.2% improvement. The 12-point improvement from 39.7% in science proficiency to 51.7% is actually 30.2% improvement in value.

The other federal benchmark was having 90-100% of students showing growth, which Charles City reached in every subject.

“That doesn’t mean they are all proficient, it just means they are getting better from last time,” Fisher said.

Although 91% of Charles City students showed growth in math, district-wide math proficiency dropped 4.6 percentage points, from 56.3% in 2019 to 51.8% in 2021. Fisher said that even though fewer students were proficient in math, more students showed growth.

“The kids are trending in the right direction,” Fisher said. “If we had kids that weren’t growing we’d be more concerned with that.”

Fisher said that proficiency numbers as compared to the rest of the state will take more time.

“We’re still doing our analysis,” he said. “We don’t really get much from the state, we just get raw data. We will have more on advanced proficiency coming out soon.”

In 2019, Charles City students were below the state average in every subject, at every grade level. For example, the tests showed Charles City fifth-graders at 29% proficiency in science in 2019, while the state average was 52%. Charles City ninth graders were 65% proficient in mathematics in 2019, according to the tests, while the state average was 69%.

Fisher said that although the district was well aware that there were places students needed to grow, the poor test performance two years ago was something of a wake-up call.

“Seeing the new and much more rigorous test really showed that some of the scores we had previously were a little higher and more optimistic than what was accurate,” Fisher said. “The previous test had been taken multiple times and they’d never changed it, and it wasn’t nearly as rigorous.”

Fisher said the district has worked to align instruction to the core standards and to the rigor level of the tests.

“What was happening was we weren’t teaching to the same rigor level as the assessment,” Fisher said. “If you aren’t teaching as hard as the test is, your kids aren’t going to perform as well.”

Fisher said the improved scores are just the first step, and although the district will celebrate the results, it will take a realistic approach.

“It’s not as important what you know as it is what you do with that knowledge,” he said. “Now we need to see the kids applying this knowledge in practical ways and solving real problems.”

Fisher said that disproportionality is still an issue, especially for students of color, students with Individualized Educational Plans, and students on Free and Reduced Lunch. The district continues to have gaps with these groups in how they perform, compared to all students.

“We’ve got to find ways to close that gap,” he said. “Even our traditionally underserved groups are still growing, though.”

Fisher said that he felt as though this year was very much an alignment year, as the district got aligned with its standards of rigor, and now the district needs to accelerate that progress.

“Our student testing is improving,” said Charles City School District Board of Director Scott Dight. “Nothing is at the level we would like it to be yet, however, most of us know that student test scores are not just the responsibility of the students and the teachers, it’s family and things like making sure homework gets done and we’re reading year round.”

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