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New state assessment brings new challenges to school district
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New state assessment brings new challenges to school district

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Council Bluffs Community School District students apparently found the new Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress more challenging than the state assessment it replaced.

Fewer students scored in the “proficient” and “advanced” categories, according to results released this week.

However, the new test differs in content and format from the previous one.

“The state has advised school districts not to compare the results of this new state test to previous years, Superintendent Vickie Murillo said. “We share the state’s high expectations for student proficiency as outlined in Iowa’s academic standards. ISASP is one of the measures that help our teachers understand where students are proficient and where they may need more support. We, of course, also use the Measures of Academic Progress assessments three times per year to track student progress and set individual growth goals with our students.”

The ISASP was given for the first time in April 2019. All students in grades 3-11 took the English Language Arts and Mathematics assessments. The Science assessment was only given to students in grades 5, 8 and 10.

In the ISASP, scores are classified as “advanced,” “proficient” and “not yet proficient,” said Corey Vorthmann, chief academic officer, during a school board meeting Tuesday. He displayed a chart that showed the percentage of students in each grade classified as proficient or advanced.

In English Language Arts, the percentage of students scoring at the proficient or advanced level ranged from 50.15% for third grade to 62.08% for eighth grade, with most grades falling in the mid-50s.

Scores were higher in math, with the percentage of students rated proficient or advanced ranging from 46.67% in 11th grade to 70.48% in fourth grade, with most grades in the low to mid-60s.

Science scores were the lowest, with percentages running from 40.52% in fifth grade to 52.17% in eighth grade. In 10th grade, 49.21% of the students scored in the proficient or advanced categories.

Individual reports will be sent to parents before winter break, Vorthmann said.

Based on the first administration, the test seems to rate 10% fewer students as proficient, Vorthmann said. With the previous state assessment, the percentage of students considered proficient or advanced were generally in the 60% to 70% range.

Students may have been suffering from “assessment fatigue” when they took the test last spring, he said. They had already taken the district assessment and MAP test, at that point. That won’t be the case next spring, he said.

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The new test differs from the old one in several respects, Vorthmann said. It is a state test, so there is no way to compare students’ scores with students across the country. It is given via computer (which is how Council Bluffs students took it), although schools were allowed to purchase paper copies for the first year. (The students also take the MAP test by computer, which has been given for the past couple years.)

And, for the first time, the state assessment includes writing, as well as reading, Vorthmann said. This includes writing out short answers and answering essay questions.

“Previous to this, all questions were multiple-choice,” he said.

As promised, this test is more closely aligned with Iowa’s academic standards, Vorthmann said. The previous test, which was national, included some material Iowa students had not been exposed to yet because of differences in emphasis and sequence.

However, the results are presented differently, he said. As a result, scores can’t be compared directly with those from previous state assessments – although a panel of experts will attempt to determine how the results line up with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. ESSA classifies schools based on the amount of support they need, with those needing the most designated as “Targeted Support and Improvement Schools.”

District officials are concerned about how the scores will translate into ESSA categories. They might mean more schools will be classified under ESSA as “Comprehensive Support and Improvement Schools.”

“Once the feds label you, you’re there for three years,” Murillo said.

Adjusting to the new state assessment will help, she said.

“Our scores will be much better now that we know writing is part of the assessment — and when we know what domains are being tested in science,” Murillo said. “We’ll continue to teach all of them, but we’ll know what to emphasize.”

The assessment emphasizes engineering, which is not part of state standards, Vorthmann said.

District officials will also have to adjust to what the results don’t say. They do not break out how various subgroups did on the test, which has to be reported to the federal government, Vorthmann said. Subgroups include students from lower-income families, students of racial or ethnic groups, those with limited English proficiency and those with disabilities.

“We will try to build some of our own subgroups,” he said.

The assessment itself could be modified, since it has not yet gone through the peer review the Iowa Legislature requires, Vorthmann said.

The district currently has consultants studying its high school math curriculum to see if it is rigorous enough, he said. In addition, teachers are accessing professional development through the Metropolitan Omaha Education Consortium and the Urban Education Network.

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