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ISD 2142 wrestles with subpar math proficiency assessments

David Colburn
Posted 9/16/21

REGIONAL- Results of statewide academic assessments conducted last spring reveal that ISD 2142 has some significant work ahead to bring up the math proficiency levels of its students, according to a …

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ISD 2142 wrestles with subpar math proficiency assessments

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REGIONAL- Results of statewide academic assessments conducted last spring reveal that ISD 2142 has some significant work ahead to bring up the math proficiency levels of its students, according to a review of the district’s scores presented at a school board study session on Tuesday.
Only one out of five district seventh, eighth, and eleventh graders who took the math accountability tests met or exceeded proficiency standards, 18 to 23 percent lower than statewide scores, according to a summary of results provided by Kristi Berlin, director of teaching and learning.
However, nearly half of students in third through sixth grades scored at or above proficiency levels, a mark on par with their statewide peers.
Berlin said students often struggle to make the connections between math and real life, and that disconnect may well be contributing to the poorer performance in the upper grades. She noted that she’s seen examples of students scoring higher on math for the ACT college admission test where their results can influence what schools they can attend, while state assessments don’t carry the same personal relevance.
“That connection to the math and the junior MCA is not a connection that we’re making here, so we will continue to look at that,” Berlin said.
“If I’m in seventh, eighth, 11th grade, I don’t get anything to do this test, so why do I dive in?” Superintendent Reggie Engbritson added. “The ACT, I’ll try to do my best for college.”
But board members Bob Larson and Chris Koivisto questioned the validity of those comments as an explanation for district students performing more poorly that students statewide on the assessments.
“Wouldn’t the ‘I don’t care’ factor be statewide, too?” Larson asked.
“That’s what I bring up every time, too,” Koivisto said. “It’s apples and apples. The statewide numbers have the same grades not taking the test seriously, so that just doesn’t hold water, and really it is that our upper grade math is not doing well.”
Berlin noted a factor somewhat unique to the district. In lower grades the district uses a standard math curriculum program that aligns well with prescribed state standards. However, because of how standards have been constructed for upper grades, there is no similar curriculum available for those grades, leaving it to teachers to construct their own as best they can. District processes that foster collaboration among teachers were significantly disrupted by the pandemic last year, she said, but there are numerous plans that will be implemented to support those teachers in the current school year.
Another focus is to look at ways to make math more relevant for students in upper grades, Berlin said, including reintroducing tech math as an elective. A “school-to-work” approach that also shows students how math connects to various career fields also has applicability for reading and science, she said.
“We are constantly looking at trying to build a math program that has levels for kids so we can get the kids to excel,” Berlin said. “But we’re trying to do it in a way that doesn’t dummy down math. We’re trying different programs, we’re trying different aspects, and we’re not going to stop trying.”
Reading, science
Districtwide scores for all grades tested were relatively consistent with statewide marks in both reading and science, Berlin reported.
Half of students in the district and statewide scored as meeting or exceeding reading standards. In third through sixth grades, ISD 2142 students scored slightly above their statewide peers. The greatest discrepancy was in seventh and eighth grades, where 37 percent of students in the district scored as proficient versus 49 percent statewide.
District students were on par with those statewide in science, with four of ten students rated as proficient.
No statewide assessments were conducted last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, and because of radical alterations to learning models and intermittent school closures related to COVID-19.

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