Students’ efforts to narrow achievement gaps under review

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Photo by Crystal Apilado/Winters Express

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The Winters Unified School District discussed student testing assessments and hiring an education specialist at the Oct. 6 meeting.

Acting Superintendent Phoebe Girimonte broke down precisely what i-Ready testing is, informing officials about the online English Language Arts and Math program with tools for screening and placement, intervention, classroom assessment, instruction and effectiveness metrics.

“This year, we have invested at all sites in the teacher toolbox, and that toolbox allows teachers to look at student groups based on performance in different standard strains and then to implement lessons that differentiate and respond to those student needs,” Girimonte said.

Board Trustee Kristin Trott wanted to know if the testing program successfully served Spanish-speaking students. While there is no formal mechanism for Spanish-speaking students to break down mathematical formulas in English into their native language, the district is working on making that possible, according to educator Delia Espinoza.

“As of now, the results will represent the mathematical thinking and not the language area, and that’s why we have begun talking to the representatives about how they can help us support the English language learners whether they are in a bilingual classroom or not,” Espinoza said.

Board Clerk Joedy Michael wanted to know how the i-Ready ratios compared to the pre-pandemic numbers of 2019. While testing scores “are not great still,” Michael said he hopes learning loss from COVID did not make numbers worse.

Girimonte said teachers are still reinforcing “prior grade-level standards and embedding them into grade-level instruction” while closely monitoring students during testing to ensure the best possible concentration.

“While we want to present the realities of student performance, we also want to recognize that our students are showing up and striving every single day, and the teachers that are serving them are doing their very best to help close these gaps that widened during the pandemic,” Girimonte said.

Board President Carrie Green agrees.

“You have a group of students who don’t take the test quite seriously enough or are just not in the mood because they are that age group where it could be a little more challenging,” Green said.

Girimonte said there is a lot of vulnerability in sharing the data, but the school district recognizes the importance of transparency and accountability.

Addressing staffing shortage
After testing talks, Human Resources Director Lisa Dennis informed officials that employees who work outside their classifications and beyond their usual detail would be offered financial compensation due to ongoing staffing shortages.

Green was glad to make the motion to approve the measure, stating it is “a proactive way to address staffing shortages and maintain services.”

Dennis also shared the need for an educational services specialist who will provide districtwide support and service in the planning and improving of instructional programs for all district students. According to Dennis, the position will entail coordinating and managing the academic and enrichment elements for the kindergarten through sixth grade Expanded Learning Opportunity Program (ELO-P) and Universal Pre-Kindergarten.

“The candidate will provide professional development and on-site mentoring support to staff to ensure high-quality programming, alignment amongst programs, as well as compliance with programming components and documentation required by state and federal funding,” Dennis said.

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