Monthly School Report (October 2017)

Superintendent Joe Potts · Tuesday, October 24, 2017
My grandmother Rose was an avid reader. She grew up the oldest of nine children in an immigrant family. She did not speak, read, nor write English until she began her formal education in a one-room school house in North Buena Vista, Iowa. There she met her teacher, Ms. Florence Kipper, who cultivated a deep and lasting love for learning.

It was not uncommon for my grandmother to read a novel or two a week, and frequently she and I would read the same book and then spend time on a Sunday afternoon talking about what we had read together.

I believe that my grandmother’s passion for reading sparked in me a strong interest and love for reading. I am thankful that as I grew older, attended college and graduate school that I had not only a passion for reading, but also the ability to read, decode and understand the textbooks and novels. Reading a book a week in graduate school was not that onerous a task.

In our world flooded with information on social media, today’s young people require strong reading skills that enable them to determine the significance and veracity of information presented to them.

Daily we hear reports about “fake news” and media bias. We hear, too, that our citizenship is losing its critical eye for decision making. Truly, our children require critical thinking and strong literacy skills more now than ever.

Iowa Assessments:


Each year, students in West Liberty and across the state of Iowa complete the Iowa Assessments that evaluate students’ skills in reading, mathematics and science. These tests represent one data point and give an indication of students’ skill level and ability to think critically. In a way, the test results are retrospective—meaning that they give a snapshot of performance that has occurred in the past.

The graphs below contain our district’s 2016-17 reading achievement scores in grade bands 3-5, 6-8, and 9-11. The data show a five year trend of performance and it is helpful, at times, to present data in groups, or bands. A small number of students in one grade—for example, 70 students in 3rd grade-- might not give a reliable account of student performance. So that is why reporting data in grade bands of say 300 students makes sense.

See graphs for Reading Grades 3-5, Reading Grades 6-8 and Reading Grades 9-11.

When evaluating the success of a school or district, it is important to eschew a singular viewpoint. Other data points such as classroom-based assessments, graduation and college going rates, and grade-point-average matter tremendously. West Liberty High School has maintained a 95% graduation rate as one measurement, providing insight in the quality of the educational experience here.

And after having spent considerable time in our schools and classrooms, I can say unequivocally that there is a tremendous level of care for children. Our teachers are working hard, and our school administrators are committed to the success for a diversity of students and staff members. In West Liberty every student matters, and there is much to be proud of and thankful for in the community.

What do the Data Say?

For sure data analysis is a matter of perspective, but high performing organizations embrace their current circumstances. The metrics of success should be a part of everyday conversations in every classroom in our school district.

The graphs above indicate that in all grade levels, a majority of students in all grades are meeting standard—as indicated by achieving a “cut score” of proficient or advanced proficient.

They also illustrate a flattening of performance—there is a trend of similar performance over the course of time. This leads to questions about the current “systems” in place for teachers and students. By systems I mean the practices, resources, and support structures in place PreK-12.

What the graphs above do not illustrate are the gaps in performance between students in various subgroups. Though not specific only to West Liberty, gaps in performance should lead us to questions about improvement.

Our mission and commitment is to educate all children, to believe in every child’s potential, and to provide them the opportunities to realize their dreams. If there are gaps, then we need to design solutions to close them. Much is at stake.

A relatively recent study of reading performance, Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters, sends an urgent message, “Reading proficiently by the end of third grade (as measured by the NAEP at the beginning of fourth grade) can be a make-or-break benchmark in a child’s educational development…low achievement in reading has important long term consequences….”

The famous Report of the National Reading Panel confirms this. Reading proficiency by the conclusion of third or beginning of fourth grade has tremendous implications for future school success. It confirms the correlation between 3rd grade proficiency and future success in school and beyond, which leads us to consider ways to improve teaching and learning to guarantee that all children meet that important benchmark.

School Improvement Planning

The data represented here could suggest a few things to consider for future school improvement, including a stronger alignment to Iowa Core and/or content specific standards. Also a tighter focus on using common formative assessments in groups or grade levels could lead to instructional shifts in practices that would in turn improve performance. And the implementation of a systematized tiered system of interventions for those who require support in mastering literacy skills has led to gains in student achievement.

School improvement efforts are nested in West Liberty. Members of teams work together to plan and implement strategies for success.

Each school in West Liberty has empowered a building-level leadership team. Building leaders and teachers in these groups design school-specific improvement plans that set goals and delineate strategies for raising achievement in reading, science, math; this year they also have set goals for staff retention and new teacher enculturation. Our goal is to create plans that are both comprehensive and meaningful.

School improvement efforts are nested in West Liberty. Members of building teams contribute to a district leadership and school improvement team, which meets monthly.

Finally, members of the district leadership team contribute Local School Improvement Committee. This larger conversation also includes parents and community members, teachers, and staff takes place in the Local School Improvement Committee, which meets quarterly.

There are best practices occurring and making a difference in our schools. Yet most would agree that we can improve. To get better, however, you have to get “different” and that could require the implementation of other scientifically-proven school improvement strategies.

Points Forward

And then there is Rose, my grandmother—one of the most literate persons I have met. She attended a one-room school house in a sleepy, rural community in Iowa. She began her public school educational experience without the ability to read and write in English. Years later she graduated from eighth grade as the top student in her school, scoring the highest marks possible on the high school entrance exams.

Without a doubt, her teacher made a difference. Florence Kipper had an unflinching commitment to children and to insuring that they were skilled enough to succeed in life.

The one-room school house classroom environment had an impact. According to my grandmother, children taught each other and took responsibility for each other’s success. Interdependence was the rule, not the exception.

Fast forward 100 years. Then as now, our children enter school, counting on a quality learning experience. The stakes are high for them, and for us. The good news is that the “Florence Kippers” of the world are present in West Liberty.

One challenge before us is to honor the past and make good use of the present knowledge. We do have the resources and the capacity to insure that every student meets standard in reading by 3rd grade. What a difference that goal could make for so many of our children.
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