New report shows high post-merge performance at Alta-Aurelia

Friday, January 4, 2019

Alta-Aurelia Community School District scored higher than the state average and neighboring districts with new metrics that measure for improvement.

Superintendent Lynn Evans calls the new school accountability measures, part of the Every Child Succeeds Act passed by the Obama Administration to replace No Child Left Behind, an improvement for Alta-Aurelia.

“ESSA’s new system of accountability is more geared towards assisting schools in need of improvement,” he said. The old system was more punitive, he said, “like being placed on the naughty list—more shaming than anything.”

Alta Elementary was previously on a “watch list” for a period of time under the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind.

The recently released reports give Alta-Aurelia High School a score of 58.15 out of 100—significantly higher than Storm Lake and a couple points above both the state average and Newell-Fonda. The measures show not only the school as a whole, but performance within subgroups, such as socioeconomic status or English-language status.

“I think our approach has been so that we don’t get caught up in just that one assessment,” Evans said. “It’s not that we don’t care, but we’re less concerned about that than continual improvement.”

Neighboring Storm Lake was one of 307 schools given a “targeted” designation, for schools with a subgroup scoring in the lowest 5 percent of Iowa schools. Another 34 schools of Iowa’s 1,300 received a more serious “comprehensive” status given to them because their overall scores were in the lowest 5 percent of the state.

“Even though Alta-Aurelia did not receive a comprehensive or targeted designation, and we are very proud of the work we have done on improving student achievement, we know we still have work to do,” Evans said in December.

Evans said A-A is hoping to continue improvement in reading and math scores as it closes the gaps with small subgroups not statistically reportable, like special education.

While identified schools are working on their own comprehensive plans for improvement, Alta-Aurelia is proactively taking itself to the next level as it improves a multi-tiered support system that aims to track and improve student performance in math and reading from kindergarten to graduation.

With specialized groups meeting monthly to review students in need of assistance, Alta-Aurelia schedules student interventions, adjusted as needed based on incoming data designed to holistically spur growth in students, even ones who are already doing well on the Iowa standardized assessments.

“By taking a comprehensive school improvement approach to improving student achievement in our district, we intend to continue those upward trends,” the superintendent said. “This approach was based on feedback from Iowans who wanted a change from a previous federal accountability system that emphasized proficiency.”

“While proficiency matters, schools also deserve credit for making significant progress with students,” said Ryan Wise, Director of the Iowa Department of Education, with the release of the new online Iowa School Performance Reports, available at iaschoolperformance.gov.

The accountability measures include an evaluation based on student surveys of engagement, safety and the overall learning environments. Other more conventional measures include participation in state assessments, academic achievement, academic growth, graduation rates and English language proficiency. A post-secondary readiness measure will be added this year.

“We have seen good, steady growth in all our academic areas over the last seven years,” Evans reported, with the exception of a dip in high school science that started high in the first place. “That goes back to our district leadership team that looks at data and develops plans.”

Last but not least, he credits district staff as “outstanding” in sticking with the plan. “One thing we don’t do well in education is sticking with the plan—we’re always ready to jump on the next great idea to improve,” said Evans.