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Data from report card helps school district members see strengths, weaknesses of Alta education system

Thursday, September 20, 2001

A new report card of the Alta School District shows the education system has strengths which it can be proud of and weaknesses which it must work on.

The report, compiled by Linda Ducommun, a 7-12 art teacher and Dan De Wild, a high school science instructor, helped show how much information Alta students in elementary, middle and high school are retaining in core subjects such as reading, mathematics and science.

In addition to the test scores, the report card also included a longitudinal study to help chart the progress of those students who had been in the Alta system since kindergarten, a chart of ACT scores of the past two junior classes, a pie chart showing the future plans of senior students, a bar graph of the high school dropout rate and a graph showing how the Alta system did with its goals.

The information, presented before the school board Monday, was viewed by faculty members earlier, and teachers were able to offer their input about the scores, something both Ducommun and De Wild said was very important.

"This is the first year that teachers have looked in-depth at the data and how it shows the strengths and weaknesses of our school system," Ducommun said. "They always knew in their heart what they needed to help the kids with; now, they know exactly what they need to help kids with."

"This is something that's pretty exciting, because the teachers can plan and take action based on what they see from the numbers," De Wild said. "They'll be able to pinpoint exactly what needs to be worked on, and that's only going to help our school district out."

The report used data from fourth-and eighth-grade students taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, a statewide test administered every year to elementary and middle school pupils, and 11th-graders taking the Iowa Test of Educational Development, a test given to high-school students.

Scores were kept for reading, math and science, and were divided up into low, intermediate and high sections.

In a desired bar graph, the highest number of students would fall into the intermediate section, while an equal number of pupils would fall under the low and high fragments.

A major change between the first and third bars, however, signals an area that needs to be looked at, and the data showed several places which Ducommun and De Wild said need to be viewed more closely in the future.

* Reading

The reading scores for 45 fourth graders showed 67.7 percent were intermediate and 25.8 were high, while 62.2 percent of eighth graders fell into the intermediate category and 26.7 were in the low section.

The 11th-grade scores, however, were not as comforting, as only 51.2 percent of students scored at the intermediate level, while 36.6 percent had scores considered low.

* Mathematics

The numbers in math were higher than reading in both fourth-and eighth-grade studies, but again dropped off when pupils reached 11th grade.

A high number, 73.3 percent, of fourth grade students were intermediate and only 11.8 percent were low. The numbers stayed relatively the same in the eighth-grade section, as 65.9 percent of pupils compiled intermediate scores, while 15.9 percent had low scores.

The low scores in math skyrocketed to 41.5 percent as juniors in high school, however, nearly eclipsing the 43.9 percent of students falling into the intermediate category.

Ducommun said the low number of math scores were alarming, but there could be several explanations for the decline.

"Some might not be taking math classes when they take the ITEDs, some are in low classes to begin with and we've found out that many juniors don't take the ITEDs seriously and perform to the best of their abilities," Ducommun said. "There are many possible reasons why that many kids are in the low category, but this is something we need to keep an eye on. If it continues like that in the future, then it's something we need to address right away."

* Science

The science area did not have numbers available from either fourth grade or 11th grade, but the data from eighth-grade sections was positive.

Approximately 68.2 percent of eighth-graders were in the intermediate science category, while 25 percent had low results.

* Longitudinal Study

The longitudinal study, which focused on 23 students enrolled in the Alta school system since they were in kindergarten, was one of the most talked-about sections of the report card, as it looked at the scores of the pupils at different points in their Alta school career.

Results were gathered from tests taken in fourth, sixth, seventh, ninth and 11th grade, and showed a roller-coaster effect in the scores from students in reading, math and science.

Both Ducommun and De Wild said they were unable to explain some of the data in the longitudinal study fully, but did note it was a way to meaningfully look at the Alta school system from the bottom up.

"We wanted to compare apples to apples," De Wild said. "We wanted to focus on those kids that have been in the Alta school system since day one and see what they have done over the years."

"There's no other comparable sized school district around here that has implemented a study like this, so we're excited about it," Ducommun said. "It's a real chance to see what our kids have done and see the areas we need to work on in the future."

While scores fell in core areas in the longitudinal study, ACT scores actually improved over the past two years, from an average of 21.37 to 22.

Ducommun said one reason for that difference is the testing instrument itself.

"There's a big difference in how kids approach tests like the ITEDs and Basic Skills and how they approach the ACT," Ducommun said. "The ACT scores help them get to college, while the ITEDs aren't as big a deal for them. Their future doesn't ride on their ITED score, which may be why those scores are lower."

* Reaching goals

One of the most encouraging sections was the report on the district's goals.

After setting a goal of improving the number of students placing in intermediate and high levels by five percent from the previous year, De Wild and Ducommun were pleased to announce that the district nearly achieved that goal in every category.

Reading scores rose by 5.5 percent, math scores improved by 4.2 percent and science scores jumped by 4.4 percent from one year ago.

De Wild said he and Ducommun were very happy with those results.

"When you see the numbers from all three sections, we've increased quite a bit," De Wild said. "It shows we have taken a lot of positive steps over the past year."

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