Greene Co elementary designated ‘in need of assistance’

Middle school, high school on watch list

GC ele 2Greene County elementary in Jefferson has been designated as a school in need of assistance (SINA) by the Iowa Department of Education. School superintendent Tim Christensen made that announcement at the Greene County board of education meeting last week. “I’m not making any excuses. All schools are going to get there at some point, because 100 percent proficient is what you have to be,” he said.

The SINA designation is part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)of 2001.

The designation was based on the reading and math scores of last year’s third and fourth graders at the Jefferson-Scranton building on the Iowa assessments. The school was on the Department of Education’s “watch list” last year based on test scores for the 2012-13 school year. The benchmarks again weren’t met during the 2013-14 school year, and the school was designated as SINA-1. (Note: East Greene and J-S operated separate elementary schools until the current school year. Designation of Greene County elementary as a SINA is based on J-S test scores.)

The intermediate school was on the watch list last year based on 2012-13 scores, but met the benchmarks for 2013-14 and is no longer listed. However, the middle school has been placed on the watch list in reading and math and the high school has been placed on the list for reading.

Karen Sandberg, director of teaching and learning for the district, explained to the board that test scores can be averaged over two or three years, or that progress by low-performing students can be considered in different ways. There is also a calculation of statistical confidence used when smaller numbers of test scores go into the total. Using that “confidence band,” 88 to 90 percent of the students needed to test at the proficient level to satisfy the NCLB expectation.

Simplifying complicated calculations and considerations, the scores of eight to 10 students of the total 100 or so students per grade level in reading, and the reading and math scores of 15-20 students (per grade level) of those who get free or reduced-price meals, were what led to the SINA designation, according to Sandberg. The percentage of students reaching proficiency has remained mostly steady, while the expectations mandated by the NCLB have increased.

“I told my teachers three or four years ago that it’s not a matter of if we get on the SINA list, but when we get on the SINA list,” elementary principal Scott Johnson said at the board meeting. “The one thing that this does is it gives us a point to say ‘this is where we’re at, folks. We’ve got to step up our game a little bit.’ … Sometimes it’s not a bad thing. It makes you take a hard look at what you’re doing and where you need to be.”

Notifying the public of SINA status and explaining what steps are being taken to improve student performance are the first requirements once a SINA designation is put in place. Sandberg is now working on that notification and on the action plan required by the state to address student progress.

The elementary staff worked diligently last year with “data walls” that tracked the progress of every student, particularly low-performing students, in the various component skills in reading. That will be expanded this year. Test scores done at the end of the mandatory summer school for non-proficient readers showed that for the students who attended, there was virtually none of the usual “backsliding” in skills during the summer. That should give teachers a better starting place now.

The school has already changed its use of federal Title I funds to benefit all students, not just those designated for special help. (Read the archived story here.) The daily schedule has been adjusted to provide more reading time each day as well.

The school has a new math series this year, Everyday Math. The East Greene school had introduced Everyday Math a few years ago, and Sandberg credits it with making a huge difference in math scores. Johnson said time will be scheduled for extra help in math for students who need it. “These changes were done before we knew about SINA, looking at what we can do to help our kids,” Johnson said.

The action plan requires at least one element calling for parental involvement, Sandberg said.

Johnson talked with the elementary teachers about the SINA designation before school started. “It is a negative thing, but we’ve got to find the positive in this. What can we do to make ourselves better because of it or in spite of it,” he reported telling the teachers.

Sandberg is well versed in SINA designations. She comes to the Greene County district via the East Greene district. East Greene elementary was first put on the Department of Education’s watch list in 2008-09 based on reading scores, and was later listed for low reading and math scores. The school was able to meet the math goals, but was a SINA-4 school in 2013-14 based on reading scores for 2012-13. SINA-4 requires restructuring a school to make “major, fundamental, and substantial” changes. Reorganizing attendance centers, as was done this year with having all PreK-3 classrooms in Jefferson and all 4-6 classrooms in Grand Junction, met that requirement.

Sandberg commented to the school board that “this isn’t my first rodeo.” She and the East Greene staff were ultimately successful in their rodeo, as the students at East Greene elementary in the 2013-14 school year met the benchmarks in both reading and math.  ~by Victoria Riley

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