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Math, motivation challenges for Wallowa County Schools

State issues ‘report cards’
Kathleen Ellyn

Wallowa County Chieftain

Published on November 28, 2017 2:18PM


Joseph, Enterprise and Wallowa school districts are doing a stellar job teaching science and remain in the top 10 percent of schools in the state for graduation rates.

All of the schools also rated an “above average achievement” rating, a measure that takes into account student improvement over time, when the Oregon Department of Education recently issued its “report cards.”

The reports provide educators with an opportunity to communicate directly with parents and community members about how local schools are performing.

Some challenges remain, particular in teaching math. All three Wallowa County districts have been addressing the issue with new math programs and teaching tools.

Enterprise School District

Enterprise, with a K-12 enrollment of approximately 419, posted a 92.6 percent graduation rate.

Science: 88.2 percent of students in grades 5, 8 and 11 are meeting standards in comparison to a 66 percent state average.

English Language Arts: The district scored above state averages in all grades except fourth.

Math: Enterprise students scored well in math, with only grades three and four scoring below the state average. Grades six through eight showed steady gains in the last three years and grade 11 scored more than 20 percent above state averages.

Administrators have already begun circulating their best math teachers to improve instruction in all classes, according to Supt. Erika Pinkerton.

“Our school k-6 will begin a web-based program called ‘Study Island,’” Pinkerton said. “This program will focus on math and language arts, which are both aligned to the Common Core standards.”

Pinkerton expects to launch that program by January, and parents can have their child log on from home and help their child with assignments. There will also be a direct link for parents to access Kahn Academy where a video clip of a teacher teaching the concept in the homework will show them how to help a child.

Some parents report that children in grades three and four are particularly confused by “word problem math,” which not only requires students to know mathematical formulas but to translate them out of and then back into word problems. Student scores are expected to improve as teachers become more proficient in new teaching methods and new individual student tracking quickly indicates which students are struggling.

Wallowa School District

Wallowa School District, with 190 students K-12, can still boast a 100 percent graduation rate.

English Language Arts: The district suffered nearly across-the-board with only grades five and six showing a higher than state average of students meeting or exceeding standards.

Science: Wallowa boasts excellence in science in grades five and eight, but student scores slipped by grade 11 with only 50 percent meeting or exceeding standards compared to a state average of 57.8.

Math: math results were equally in flux with third, fourth and 11th graders far below state averages.

Supt. Bret Uptmor said that he doesn’t focus on the students in the top two tiers as much as he looks at the students in the bottom. The primary problem with low scores in the higher grades is motivation, he said.

High school is a time when social engagement is far more important to a student than the score of a test taken once a year, which drives the state school report cards. Motivating students to take that test seriously can be difficult, he said.

Uptmor and his teachers have undertaken a serious campaign to raise school spirit, engage parents, and use pride as a motivator for excellence, he said.

To help reach all students, Wallowa is implementing the Response to Intervention program, which recognizes that different students are struggling for different reasons. Elementary teachers work collaboratively with trainers at the state level to evaluate success and change instruction assessments to better serve students.

Among the many methods used to assist students are practical measures such as dividing the class into groups according to student ability so that learning problems can be targeted by teachers or assistants and moving the students from group to group as they learn so that no stigma is attached to encountering a learning problem in the process.

RTI is meant to be fluid in process. It is also effective in identifying students who may need to be referred for special education services and will additionally provide documentation of what types of instruction have not been helpful.

The district is also partnering with the Oregon State University Singleton Professional Learning Community, a training program designed to support and improve the excellence of teachers.

Groups of high school math and English language arts teachers began meeting in August and will work with other teachers across Eastern Oregon. Teachers enjoy both the collaborative benefits and the focus on action. Eight districts are involved working on what they hope will be high-impacting strategies for classroom assessments.

Joseph School District

Joseph School District, with 235 students K-12, graduates 86 percent of its students on time.

English Language Arts: Joseph students scored well in early grades, but numbers declined in grade 7 before rebounding in grades 8 and 11, ending in grade 11 with 69 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards — the same as the state average.

Science: Science scores for grades five, eight and 11 are 6 to 10 percent higher than state average.

Math: Scores are strong in the early grades but decline precipitously in grades six to eight before rebounding up to above state averages by grade 11.

Supt. Lance Homan says that his school is also working with programs similar to those used in Wallowa in addition to making use of the I-Ready and ALEKS programs, which help identify students who are struggling.

“We split our algebra class into two classes to better serve our students, created a math class for high schoolers that need extra support, need to recover math credits or need a different type of math class,” he said.

Motivation of high school students remains a challenge.

“Teachers and staff work really hard to motivate students,” Homan said. “Motivation varies from class to class. We take the assessments in smaller chunks of time in order to try to keep them fresh and not feeling overwhelmed.”



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