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NCSD directors pleased with student progress in AYP

A Berg Middle School student in Shelly Fitzegerald's third period using the new “DIGITS” math program on a Chromebook. DIGITS is expected to help BMS students raise math scores over the next few years and get the building off of the SINA list.
A Berg Middle School student in Shelly Fitzegerald's third period using the new “DIGITS” math program on a Chromebook. DIGITS is expected to help BMS students raise math scores over the next few years and get the building off of the SINA list.

Elementary and Secondary Education Services Directors Jim Gilbert and Tina Ross, respectively, are pleased with the Newton Community School District’s students’ results in the 2012-13 Adequate Yearly Progress reports.

“This is sort of our report card on how schools are meeting the No Child Left Behind (Act) trajectories,” Gilbert said. “In Newton, we have results for each building. In Iowa, every school district and every school gets that same kind of feedback. All the scores are based on the student’s proficiency in the Iowa Assessments.”

Schools performances in the AYP are graded via several Annual Measurable Objectives, or AMO, which score children in math and reading, who are in the third through eighth or 11th grades.

AMO terms include:

• MET, which how a school  met the trajectory;

• Watch List, a school that didn’t meet the trajectory for one year;

• SINA, which stands for a school in need of assistance. A SINA is a school that hasn’t met the trajectory for two consecutive years, and there are different levels of SINA. (For example, a SINA-1 school hasn’t met the trajectory in three years);

• Delay, a school that goes back and forth between meeting and not meeting trajectories through the years, and, like SINA, this measure can also have a number added to the end;

• REM is a school removed from the watch list. (It takes two consecutive years of meeting trajectories to be removed from the list);

• DINA, a district in need of assistance, which happens if a district doesn’t meet the states AYP participation goals or AMO in either the all students group or any one of the subgroups within the required grade spans in the testing subject area for two consecutive years. Also when a district does not meet the goals for district level K-8 average daily attendance rates and high school graduation rates for two consecutive years, it can be identified as a district in need of assistance.

Most elementary schools fared well. Thomas Jefferson is on the Watch List for reading and is MET in math. Woodrow Wilson is SINA-1 in reading and REM in math. Berg Elementary is SINA-1 in reading and MET in math. Aurora Heights was Delay-1 in both categories.

“Well we have some good news. That is in the area of mathematics. All four elementary schools met the (NCLB) targets for proficiency in mathematics,” Gilbert said.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean they met trajectories,” Ross added.  “But it shows that we have shown enough growth that we are continuing to improve our scores and the (Iowa Department of Education) is going, ‘OK. You guys are getting it going and we are not going to mess with you right now because you guys are doing something right.’”

Gilbert credits the improved math results to the district’s Everyday Math curriculum and the heavy push on mathematics during the last several years.

“This is good news,” Gilbert said. “It shows that for the last three years, the time and the effort teachers have put into teaching mathematics differently is working and it’s making a difference in the performance of students.”

This year, the district adopted the “Reading Wonders” program and is hoping for a similar experience with reading scores.

“In the area of reading, we are just starting that now,” Gilbert said. “It’s a brand new initiative, we’ve redefined our literacy blocks, we’ve studied the best practices associated with structures around reading and writing and we’ve adopted brand new materials.”

“It’s not an overnight thing,” Ross said. “You have to keep in mind that it’s a three to five year process to see the change.”

At the secondary level, scores varied. Berg Middle School is SINA-8 in reading and SINA-7 in math. Newton Senior High School was removed from the reading Watch List and is SINA-3 in math. Basics and Beyond Alternative School is Delay-3 in reading and SINA-3 in math.

“(BMS Principal) Mr. (Scott) Bauer and I have started very lengthy conversations about programs at the middle school and what needs to happen,” Ross said at Monday’s NCSD board meeting. “I’m not very happy about that eight and seven.”

One measure that has been implemented at BMS is a new math program called DIGITS, which Ross is hopeful will boost scores much like Everyday Math did at the elementary level.

“When we look at the secondary level nationally, once you get to the middle school level, your scores drop across the board. But that’s not an excuse and that’s not good enough,” Ross said. “We should not see that and we shouldn’t accept that as the norm or as no big deal.”

“That’s not good enough for our kids,” she continued. “We have to attack this. We have to really look at our program evaluations.”

DIGITS is an all-online program, where a password replaces the textbook. Each of BMS’s math teacher classrooms are equipped with Chromebooks for the students to do assignments on. Students also can log in from home. Although the school year is still fresh, students in Shelly Fitzgerald’s third period approved of DIGITS.

“It’s more of our generation” and “It speeds up math class and the learning process” a few of the early reviews from the class. The students all nodded in agreement when asked if they liked DIGITS.

Both Gilbert and Ross agree it will take a few years to see the results of the new programs, but are celebrating the positive results and the fact NHS was removed from the Watch List.

“That’s the thing we don’t do in education, we don’t celebrate the little things enough,” Ross quipped. “And that is a celebration. They were removed from the Watch List. That means they met state expectations for two years in a row. So we’ve continued to improve for two years and we expect the improvement to continue.”

Gilbert provided a similar assessment, but also wants to maintain the focus that has gotten scores to rise.

“When teachers hit home runs, you need the fireworks and you need the applause,” Gilbert said. “And our teachers have hit home runs. Once you get around the bases, you get back to work and you’re up again.”

Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at

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