Archive for Thursday, May 27, 2004

Excelling on assessments

Preliminary figures show Baldwin district schools earn top honors, high scores on state assessments

May 27, 2004

After nearly 15 years, Tom Mundinger no longer has a mustache.

Last week the Baldwin Elementary School Intermediate Center principal shaved it off. Or more precisely, his students shaved it off for him.

At the beginning of the school year, Mundinger told the students that should they receive Standard of Excellence on their state assessment tests, the highest achievement possible, they could shave his mustache however they wished.

So after finding out the fourth graders received top honors in their math assessments and the fifth graders excelled in the reading assessments, the school had a celebration assembly last week, which ended with Mundinger in the barber's chair.

"They just did a great job," he said of the students' effort on the tests.

But just a few years ago, Baldwin Elementary School wasn't celebrating its state assessment scores.

State assessments are the state's way of grading schools. Schools are required to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP), which is determined by the number of students who score in the proficient category or above on the tests.

Two years ago, BES, along with Marion Springs Elementary School, had test scores that did not meet state standards.

The two schools were placed on a list of Title I funded schools by the U.S. Department of Education as not having made adequate academic progress with some students.

Title I funding is based on the number of students that receive free meals. The funding received is used to help students that score below the 40th percentile on reading and math. The list of schools compiled was based on the state assessment scores of only those students below the 40th percentile.

But the schools have turned their assessment scores around. BES has now received Standard of Excellence two years in a row. In fact, no student scored in the unsatisfactory category for the second straight year. MSES fourth and fifth graders also received Standard of Excellence this year in both the reading and math tests.

"Everything we've done the past two years has been preparing for state assessments," Mundinger said.

Curriculum Director Connie Wehmeyer said though the state assessment scores the district received are still preliminary, she's pleased with the early results.

"I think they did great," she said. "It's pretty obvious by the preliminary data that we have some awesome students and teachers in the district."

This year, the fifth, eighth and 11th graders took the reading and writing assessments. The fourth, seventh and 10th graders took the math assessments. The district only receives the reading and math scores.

According to preliminary results, Vinland Elementary School fifth graders, Baldwin Junior High School seventh graders and Baldwin High School 10th graders join BES and MSES as having earned Standard of Excellence on their tests.

"However, several errors in the data have been identified," Wehmeyer said. "We can't be 100 percent certain on Standard of Excellence until the preliminaries are cleaned up."

But until the official results are released in October, she said the preliminary numbers give the district an idea of how teachers are presenting the information and whether the students are learning.

"It really is a tool to help guide teaching and learning," she said.

"I think state assessments allow us to really get a glimpse of what the students know and are able to do. It identifies which students aren't scoring the way we like them to," she said. "And help teachers become better teachers by gauging what needs to be taught."

Fifth grade teacher Donna Reed agreed the state assessments changed the way teachers presented their information to students by providing curriculum guidelines.

"It really helped us become better teachers," she said. "I found it really helped me focus."

Fourth grade teacher Cathy Maxon said subjects like math and reading were no longer treated as individual subjects in which the learning ended once the session was over.

"Kids had math in social studies and reading and science," she said. "It was integrated everywhere, in P.E., music, the library. It became a part of their life."

Special after-school programs, as well as a number of learning exercises and activities, were also put in place to make the learning process easier for students.

The emphasis the school placed on the assessments, Maxon said, made the tests a priority for the students.

"The students themselves wanted to do well on the tests," she said. "The effort was incredible, not just on the tests, but throughout the whole year.

"They take a lot of pride in what they did, and they deserve it."

Though preliminary scores indicate the district is performing well on assessments, Wehmeyer said there will always be room for improvement, especially as the tests continue to be revised.

Reed agreed and said the preparation doesn't end.

"We're already looking ahead to next year, studying this year's results and making adjustments," she said.

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