Schools still working to bring all students to grade level

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Photo by Crystal Apilado/Winters Express

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At the Feb. 21 meeting of the Winters School Board, Assistant Principal Tecera Philbrook gave a presentation on student assessments based on data collected from the STAR Renaissance testing. This assessment program is meant to help educators understand students’ proficiency in language arts and math.

Philbrook’s presentation represented the second of three testing processes that will be taken this year. The first was taken at the beginning of the school year, and the last will be taken at the end. The data presented at last week’s meeting represented the students’ progress at the mid-way point of the academic year.

“We’ve had some success and we’ve had some down ticks,” Philbrook says of the data. She presented the data for each grade tested (from second grade to twelfth), comparing the scores from the tests taken in the fall to the most recent scores.

Philbrook also explained that the district is taking a very conservative view of grade level proficiency in order to push everyone farther in their achievement. The students are being ranked as completing 60 percent of the school year, when at the time of the test the year was only 58 percent complete. This in part explains why the numbers are showing a larger percentage of students ranked below grade level.

Many grades actually saw an increase in math proficiency since the last STAR test in October, which Philbrook says is because of the educators’ focus on teaching mathematical language. The second grade classes are currently focusing on reading comprehension, which can explain their improved reading scores.

The seventh and ninth grades had particular difficulty with reaching grade level proficiency. While both grades have shown some improvement in their math scores, over half of the students in these classes are not at grade level. In reading, only 12.84 percent of seventh graders and 17.54 percent of ninth graders were performing at or above grade level.

Trustee Michael Olivas expressed frustration at seeing consistently low results over his nine years on the school board. He pointed to the years of different types of testing and intervention that he has seen.

“The bottom line is, kids aren’t proficient,” Olivas said. He looked to Superintendent Todd Cutler and posed the question: What are you going to do about it?

Philbrook said that the administrators and educators are looking to get all students academically sufficient by the end of this year.

“We have a lofty goal to reach, every student at great level, and that’s my personal goal as well,” Philbrook said.

At Shirley Rominger Intermediate Philbrook has focused on benchmark testing. The staff take time to teach students how to take the test so they will be ready for the online format in STAR testing.

Philbrook said that the elementary school teachers are using the results from the first assessment as well as the second to set prescriptions for full classes as well as the individual students who are struggling.

Trustee Carrie Greene asked if there is any conversation about the test scores between the campuses.

Winters High School Principal Nicole Reyherme and Winters Middle School Principal John Barsotti got up to speak. Reyherme spoke to the ninth graders’ test scores. She said that after seeing the results she met with the teachers, and found that some weren’t making the test important.

She said that the English teachers were seeing success after attaching the STAR testing to the students’ final exam. Somehow that did not happen with the ninth grade English classes.

“What we saw is a breakdown in our communication among our teachers in that subject,” Reyherme said, and added that they are looking at how to fix that.

Barsotti said the faculty looked over the students’ scores in their staff meeting.

“Each teacher made a plan,” Barsotti said, “and looked at the students and looked at what they can do to help them.”

Barsotti said that the seventh grade class also had trouble last year, and said that the middle school now has a year and half to work on getting them to grade level proficiency. He pointed out that more students in the seventh grade are receiving an additional period for math or language arts than the sixth and eighth grades.

Trustee Rudolph Muldong brought up a previous statement that Barsotti made that electives are important to students. Muldong said that he agreed with Barsotti that school shouldn’t just be reading and math classes.

“Social studies, science—sometimes these are the carrot for the kids,” Muldong said. “It’s what they enjoy the most”

Barsotti agreed and said that they are always reticent to take away a students’ elective class and replace it with an extra period of language arts or math. He said that they make it clear to the students and their parents that they will be able to return to their electives once they reach grade level proficiency.

Greene asked Barsotti how they can go about convincing uninterested students to be enthusiastic for the test. Barsotti said that, while it isn’t a large problem, when they do have a student who doesn’t care about the test, he has the teacher speak with them before he takes a second pass.

But he added that he doesn’t think enthusiasm is the issue. He stated that, looking at their performance, the test scores are an accurate portrayal of their proficiency. Currently the school is working on building math fluency and reading comprehension to address that.

Philbrook likens her approach to reaching grade level proficiency across the campus to shooting for the stars instead of the moon. In a conversation with the Express after the meeting, Philbrook said that while her goals are lofty, she believes that by setting high standards they have a better chance of improving more students’ year end achievement.

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