School board scrutinizes test scores

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Recent test results for Whitefish students show improvement in many areas, but Whitefish School Board trustees aren’t satisfied yet.

Whitefish School District Curriculum Director Ryder Delaloye last week presented to the board the spring 2019 academic achievement results, which includes the Smarter Balance Assessments for third through eighth grades, Montana Science CRT standards for fourth and eighth grade, and ACT results for juniors.

The results seem to paint a mixed picture.

In Muldown, proficiency levels increased in literacy, but fell in math during a period where statewide proficiency percentages increased, though at smaller population percentages than in Whitefish. Fifty-eight percent of students in 2019 scored proficient in English language arts and literacy compared to 54% the prior year, though both are a drop from 62% in 2017.

In math, 54% of students scored proficiently, down from 60% in 2018 and 63% in 2017.

Statewide, 47% of students hit proficiency levels in English and 43% in reading. Both were increases from 41% in 2018.

Things were stronger in the Science CRT tests, where 81% of Muldown students met proficiency, a 10% increase from the year before and a 12% jump over the statewide average.

The same story was true at Whitefish Middle School, where proficiency levels in English jumped three points to 70% in 2019 but math fell from 54% to 48%. Eighty-one percent of students at WMS met proficiency in the Science CRT.

The statewide averages for those were 51% in English, 39% in math and 69% in the Science CRT.

At the high school level, Whitefish High School students rank just behind Bozeman with the highest ACT average composite scores in 2019 at 21.9. Bozeman led the state with 22.2.

Whitefish had the highest college readiness benchmark score based on the ACT at 52%.

In talking to the board about the data results, Delaloye stressed paramount need to use data to meet instructional needs.

“As we talk about data, one of the things we want to come back to repeatedly is to check back in with ourselves as to why and how we’re using the data and what purpose it serves,” he said. “Even our highest measure at 70% of proficiency means that 30% are not proficient. That’s a reality we have to take in. Regardless of how high our data is, our mission is to meet the needs of all students.”

However, some of the trustees voiced their frustration with the ways the data is arranged and presented to the board.

Trustee Katie Clarke said she would rather see progress shown by the same cohorts year after year, rather than the results of different cohorts taking the same test each year.

Clarke said she rearranged the data sets to filter by cohort, and more interesting observations came up that could better influence instruction in the district’s Professional Learning Communities, where teachers and staff assess test results and teaching methods continuously through the school year.

“There are a lot of really cool things to celebrate. For example, our fifth graders improved our reading by 22% between this year and last. There are a lot of huge leaps and bounds, and when we’re talking about our second priority, which is data-driven instruction, if we model that at the board level and ask, ‘Holy cow, what did the fifth graders do in reading?’ then that’s what we’re trying to do in these [Professional Learning Communities].”

Trustee Betsy Kohnstamm added to that.

“One of the things I’ve been very concerned about is math instruction. I can get on and print out all the results, it’s not a mystery, any teacher from the district can quickly check that, but if you look at math instruction by grade cohort, we’re really in trouble in math,” she said. “I just don’t think we have a lot of time to think about math for another year or two and what we’re doing when scores are seriously in trouble.”

Delaloye said he had asked the Montana Office of Public Instruction for data sets based on cohorts, but that perspective didn’t fit with OPI’s original goal.

“Their response was that it’s not the purpose of the metric to look at grade level distribution, but to instead look at the growth that’s being made on a school level or district level,” Delaloye said.

“Yeah, but OPI’s goal is not our goal,” Clarke replied.

Data-driven improvement is the second of the district’s three top priorities as defined by a strategic plan adopted in May, along with improvement by each student every year and for schools to be safe, inclusive and welcoming environments.

Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt said the district is still looking for the right metric to measure individual improvement in a way that would satisfy Clarke and others’ desire to see the progress of the same cohorts, but she’s happy to take any feedback the trustees have.

“Our goal here is continuous improvement, and that includes of our own data savviness and presenting the data in a meaningful way for the board, and making sure the teachers and the building administrators have access to the data they need in the way that they need it,” she said.

More information on OPI’s assessment is available at https://tinyurl.com/y4nyypey.

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