by Mary Wilson
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released statewide Annual Performance (APR) Reports last week, providing districts with data and insight into how they are performing against state standards. The information was released publicly at 12:01 a.m. on the day of the Grandview School District’s Board of Education meeting, giving staff just a few hours to prepare to present the information to its governing body on Thursday, October 17.
“In the past, we were all given a percentage and the districts were all ranked,” said Superintendent Dr. Kenny Rodrequez. “We were told what that percentage was and we went through a variety of things to talk about how those points were calculated. Hearing from different superintendents in different districts about how the test was changed several times, that number became less useful.”
This year, DESE has removed that overall percentage score for districts. In the past, the Grandview School District released their overall score as well as the scores for each individual school.
“I felt like if I had done that, it probably would have given even more confusion than clarity,” said Rodrequez. “It gives us an opportunity to show what the scores look like, what our performance actually is, and how that compares from previous years, though it won’t be about the overall score.”
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Joana King said that getting past the fact that there’s not a percentage point to grade them, she feels as though the latest data provides more valuable information to the district.
“We can see exactly where we are and see exactly what our achievements are in each area,” said King.
The districts in the state are evaluated on five standards: academic achievement, subgroup achievement, college and career readiness, attendance and graduation rates. These are the same standards DESE has used in recent years for performance data.
“Last year, 90.2% of the points were earned in our district, and it was very easy for people to rank us, even though there really isn’t a true correlation between districts,” said Scott Sisemore, Grandview’s director of instructional technology. “What was released this year is a little more chaotic.”
In order to make sense of the chaos, Sisemore indicated that DESE has issued growth expectation, status expectation and progress expectations, using the same formulas as in the past. Growth indicates change in achievement scores in students over time. Status expectation is the status that reflects the measurement of the school’s level of achievement based upon a three-year average. Progress indicates the measurement of annual improvement on state assessments.
“The three-year average is actually the easiest way for us to compare where we are to the previous years,” said Sisemore.
In academic achievement, the district is exceeding; while in mathematics, the district is not currently meeting the measures according to the state. However, with the information based on the three-year average, DESE states that a comparison of proficiency rates across years is not advisable. The assessments in 2018 and 2019 are comparable, while the test administered in 2017 was not.
“Because the 2017 assessment was different than what we took in 2018, you’ll notice a pretty big difference in scores,” said Sisemore. “It looks like we dropped quite a bit, but it was actually completely different assessments and the state is saying we cannot compare the two.”
This makes the three-year average that DESE has calculated skewed. The best way for districts across the state to determine how they are doing is to only look at the 2018 and 2019 data. Grandview shows a slight increase in achievement in ELA (English language arts) between 2018 and 2019, with about one percentage point of students who are scoring in proficient and advanced. In mathematics, the district shows a moderate increase in achievement.
“This is certainly not something that we are celebrating, but it is a positive indicator that we see some growth in math,” said Sisemore. “While we are still below the state average, we have made a little bit of improvement over the year.”
Subgroup achievement includes the district’s traditionally underserved students, including those with individualized education plans (IEP), free and reduced lunch rates, English language learners (ELL) and minority students. These students are all lumped together to measure their performance against the district. Sisemore said that their APR was very similar to that of the district’s.
“Our ELL students are actually out-performing the district,” said King. “A lot will say that they will not be able to perform as well as everyone else, and we are proving that wrong.”
The standards in college and career readiness have not changed. The district shows positive trends in the area of advanced placement classes, as the opportunities for students to take dual-credit courses has increased. Sisemore said that they should see results in college and career readiness continue to rise moving forward.
According to Sisemore, attendance is a concern for the district. In 2018, the district was at 86.1% for attendance, and in 2019, that percentage dropped to 83.3%. This decrease has been steady for the last few years. The state standard is 90% of students attending school 90% of the time. School principals are working to implement different incentives across the district to help increase the number of students in class.
The state calculates a four, five and seven-year graduation rate, though Sisemore says the most important rate to look at is the four-year rate. This is the number of students who should have been seniors last year that graduated. In 2018, the district’s graduation rate was at 86%. In 2019, the rate increased slightly to 86.4%. Although Sisemore said that this is not what the district wants, the state shows Grandview on-track in comparison to other districts.
“How do we continue to improve year after year when things continue to change for us? Now we finally have two consecutive years of the exact same test results to be able to show,” said Rodrequez. “We learned a lot last year. But, we got the results last year in February, and then our students took another test in April. We’re still learning a lot about the standards, but we’re very pleased that we now have two years, and this year will finally be the third year in a row that we can start measuring. We actually have an entire year to learn from the information that we received.”
The 2019 APR will be complete upon the release of science data on November 23, which was not available last week. Statewide, while data in English language arts and mathematics remained fairly stable between the 2018 and 2019 data, four and five-year graduation rates for nearly all subgroups continued to see an increase. Gaps continued to close specifically with English learners in academics, continuing a trend of recent years with increased scores for that demographic.