Cd’A schools dive deep into data

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Courtesy photo Kate Orozco, director of elementary education for Coeur d’Alene public schools, speaks during the school district’s first Data Summit held Wednesday at the Midtown Center.

COEUR d’ALENE — In a first-of-its-kind gathering Wednesday, Coeur d’Alene school leaders and community members spent the day taking a close look at a bundle of data measuring student performance in the school district, which serves 10,800 students in 17 schools.

About 70 participants in the Coeur d’Alene Public Schools Data Summit met, with an intense focus on student achievement as measured by standardized assessments such as the Idaho Reading Indicator and the Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) presented by Smarter-Balanced, said school officials.

The data prompts many questions and concerns about how the district is doing and where it is going, said Superintendent Stan Olson. Some of the numbers are “complimentary and wonderful,” Olson said, and some clearly show where the district is falling short. The purpose of the summit is to help the district set priorities for the work that needs to be done to raise student achievement, he added.

“We feel we are seeing strong successes with learning and teaching leadership, and we are identifying places where we feel extremely challenged,” said Kate Orozco, director of elementary education.

Those attending included all five members of the district’s Board of Trustees, two dozen district administrators and principals, teachers from most schools, and members of community groups including Coeur d’Alene Education Partnership, Raising Idaho Standards for Education, and school PTAs.

All the data presented Wednesday is available online: www.cdaschools.org/data.

Topics covered included student demographic data such as enrollment and attendance trends, ethnicity and race, and the percentage of students receiving services such as special education, individual learning plans, bilingual education, and free/reduced lunches.

“Obviously times are a-changing in our district,” Board Chairman Casey Morrisroe said. “We are experiencing growth, we are experiencing increasing diversity, an increasing special education population. Are we preparing for it?”

The group spent much of the morning examining efforts to improve reading literacy among younger elementary students.

One of the state-required tests is the Idaho Reading Indicator, taken twice a year by students in kindergarten through third grade. About 80 percent of students in the Coeur d’Alene district meet the benchmark on the IRI tests.

Participants asked how the district can strive to jump above 80 percent of students meeting the IRI benchmark. They also discussed how poverty trends in the district may be influencing the IRI performance trend.

The IRI traditionally has tested for fluency – essentially how quickly kids can read letters and words. It has not, however, measured for comprehension, or whether students truly understand what they are reading.

That is changing, however. A new IRI, called I-Station, is being piloted in select Idaho schools this year, including at Ramsey, Fernan and Hayden Meadows elementary schools in the Coeur d’Alene district.

In the afternoon the group delved into student performance on the more comprehensive ISAT assessment, which has been given the past three years by students in grades three through eight and grade 10.

Reflecting rigorous new educational standards adopted by Idaho and the Coeur d’Alene district five years ago, the ISAT covers English language arts (reading, writing, speaking and listening) and mathematics (algebra, geometry and more).

Performance on the ISAT last school year was a mixed bag in the district, with some grade levels performing higher than the previous year, and some performing lower.

There also is wide variability in performance between schools, and the group discussed some of the factors that may explain those differences, including teacher turnover and the degree of parent involvement in each school. Another variable mentioned is “test fatigue,” the endurance of students facing a series of required tests each spring.

These are not excuses, Olson cautioned the group, but simply variables in learning with which the district must work.

Nick Lilyquist, the principal at Canfield Middle School, said reviewing the data presented Wednesday has value, but educators also must drill down much deeper into what’s behind the scores to find meaningful ways to improve.

Speaking for a group of participants at his table, Principal Bill Rutherford from Northwest Expedition Academy added, “How do we know when kids have holes in their education, and how do we know how to fix those holes?”

In grade 10, students taking the ISAT are being tested on standards established for grades 11 and 12. District-wide, 61.4 percent of 10th graders met the assessment’s English standard last spring, but only 24.5 percent of students met the math standard.

“We have issues in mathematics. We do,” said Mike Nelson, the district’s director of assessment and curriculum.

Mirroring a national trend, students are performing well on math assessments in lower grades, but are seriously struggling with math in high school.

“Math is definitely on our radar” for this school year, said Trina Caudle, director of secondary education. “It will be a multi-pronged approach: We’ll be looking at curriculum and instructional practices.”

Participants plan to reconvene in the next four to six weeks for a second round of examining data at the high school level, including scores on the American College Test, the SAT and Advanced Placement from the College Board, dual-credit enrollment and graduation rates.

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