FMCSD data shows progress through district

Interventionists may be overtasked in early grades


FORT MADISON – Fort Madison school leaders painted a promising picture of student performance as local educators try to keep up with an ever-changing landscape of standardized testing for PreK-12 school districts.
Fort Madison uses a FAST assessment system which stands for Formative Assessment System for Teachers. It is an assessment tool designed for universal screening, monitoring, and evaluation as part of a Multi-tiered System of Support (MTSS) for students needing intervention.
Iowa recently adopted the FAST model to assist school districts in implementing MTSS practices and meeting requirements of the Early Literacy Initiative as part of Iowa code.
Richardson Principal Todd Dirth started a data review with the board at a workshop Monday evening.
Dirth said Richardson’s literacy data shows students are not coming into the district prepared for the FAST benchmarks as kindergartners.
Fall data for kindergartners in literacy at that school show that only 28% are reading at benchmark levels when they come to the school in the fall.  That number improves to 37% by the spring, but then a regression hits over the summer because the same students come back as first graders at an even lower 27% at or above benchmark.
Those same numbers at Lincoln Elementary School are 51% in the fall, 49% in the spring and then 47% in the fall as first graders.
“When we start off that low - 28% and 27% - we have 72% to 73% of kids that aren’t at benchmark. It makes it a huge challenge to try to intervene on that many kids, so we have committed to targeting preschool at Richardson and kindergarten at both schools,” Dirth said.
“If you look all the way to the high school we get to a certain point and maintain scores, but when we start in that kind of a hole it makes it difficult to intervene.”
He said he feels good that interventionists at the elementary schools have done a good job identifying the students that need help
Board president Josh Wykert asked Dirth if regression at the elementary schools from spring to fall is normal.
“I would say yes. We’re not going to take any credit for the kids making gains over the summer, and likewise not take a whole lot of blame for the kids not making gains over the summer,” he said.
Dirth said Lincoln’s literacy data shows only two elementary grades with gains from the spring of 2023 to the fall of 2023. Richardson showed regression at every grade level from spring to fall in literacy and math.
Kim Harmon, the district's curriculum director said the benchmark data needs to be kept in context and that it shows how kids are doing at this level and at this point in the school year.
“Particularly when we look at kindergarten this is very telling in how prepared kindergartners are coming to us. When you look at the buildings and the free and reduced meal rates in the buildings there’s a correlation. Richardson’s are significantly higher than Lincoln. We need to look and try to expand our preschool opportunities there,” Harmon said.
But Dirth said over 90% of the students attended some preschool somewhere.
Board member Dianne Hope said if you look at the totality of the data, the students are making progress and it’s tough to look at one data point at one point in time. She said you have to look at trends.
“Yes, we can look at one grade point and that one day kids were happy about something or upset about something else. We are making progress and I’ve seen that the last couple of years and I want to commend the administrators for that,” she said.
“It’s hard when you see things go backwards, but we have to expect that too.”
Board member Brad Menke said it appears the students are coming in with deficit experience when it comes to the benchmarks, but then progress is seen in most areas as students age through the district.
Dirk Troutman, FMMS principal and Heather Lightfoot, assistant FMMS principal showed a reversal of the trend showing increases in all three grade levels.
Middle school literacy and math schools were above 50% to benchmark at most grade levels. Just before moving to the high school in 7th grade, 6th graders in the spring of this year tested at 60% efficient in literacy and 57% in math.
Troutman said when students come into the middle school in the high 30s or low 40s it does task intervention specialists there with an overloading of students needing support.
Data from the screening showed that 4th graders tested at 38% at benchmark in the spring of 2023. But the same students came back in the fall as 5th graders and tested at 43%, a 5% improvement in literacy.
“When you have scores where students come in at 40% proficient or 35% proficient, your support system gets overloaded. Now your interventionist can’t laser in on the skills that will help the individual students because they are overwhelmed with how many students they have,” Troutman said.
“The more upfront you can get that exponential growth, you start seeing grades four and five where you see 60-75% proficient. Now all your systems and great people in place can function very efficiently the way it’s designed to.”
The district’s composite spring 2023 literacy score for grades K-6 was right at 50% to benchmark, while the Great Prairie Area Education Association’s composite number was 59 and the state’s was 65. In the fall of 2023, those numbers dipped across the board from the district’s 48%, to GPAEA’s 57% and the state’s 64%.
In math, when the same K-6 spring numbers were collected, the district’s numbers were 65%, while the GPAEA’s was 50% and the state’s was 65%. When fall numbers were tabulated the district was at 56%, while the GPAEA was 61% and the state was 68%.
Fort Madison High School co-principals Patrick Lamb and Adrian McKay were able to show student improvement is culminating at the high school level.
Some high school numbers in science eclipsed the 90% mark with spring numbers for 10th graders in science at 91% proficient to benchmarks.  The 9th through 11th grade numbers combined in science were 85%. High school math marks in the spring of 2023 were the lowest of all the categories at 55%.
“I truly believe the inference I can make on the math, reading, and science, is that the numbers we’re seeing are a true reflection of what our kids know and are able to do,” Lamb said.
“By the time the kids get to the high school level, and this is a credit to the middle school instructors, they are ready for the fall screener.”
Superintendent Dr. Erin Slater said in the district's system the students grow and learn.
"We may get them when they first come in and they are not at benchmark, but as you can see as they matriculate through our system, if they stay with us, they become highly successful academically and behaviorally," she said.
"As students stay with us they do grow."
According to the district website, standards-based grading communicates how students perform on a set of clearly defined learning targets called standards. The purpose of standards-based grading is to identify what a student knows, or is able to do, in relation to those learning targets - as opposed to simply averaging grades/scores over the course of the grading period, which can mask what a student has learned or not learned.
Compared to traditional grading, standards-based learning more accurately represents learning progress towards the proficiency of standards.

Fort Madison, school district, screenings, data, results, math, literacy, science, comparables, board of directors, principals, students, education, performance, news, Pen City Current


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