Sussing out the bottom line in school report cards is a little bit harder than usual this year. The key is to realize that when dealing with smaller schools, when the percentages are judged by a single class year (3rd grade; 5th grade, etc.) the percentages can be skewed violently when class size is small.
For instance, if one student struggles in fifth grade math in a class cohort size of 10 students your percentages drop far more than if seven students struggled in a class cohort of 100.
“It’s mandatory we participate in state testing,” said Wallowa Superintendent Jay Hummel. “However, the information it provides small school districts is very limited.”
For that reason, local schools rely heavily on individual student progress, the school’s comparison with state averages, their on-track and on-time to graduate statistics, and their individual student progress tracking.
Wallowa County schools continue to rate well above state averages in regular attendance, individual student progress and on-track to graduate.
However, there are some areas of focus for educators.
Especially in lower grades, both Math and English Language Arts continue to be a high hurdle for many students.
Enterprise School District
The percentage of Enterprise 9th-graders on track to graduate dropped two percent, from 95 to 93 percent. Enterprise Superintendent Erika Pinkerton was comfortable citing the small school statistical skew as an explanation of that small decline. Enterprise is still well above state average of 85 percent at that level. Nevertheless, the sharp focus on individual success will not lessen, which is good news given that 89 percent of Enterprise students in 12th grade were ready to graduate — a four percent drop from last year.
Again, such a drop is probably negligible for a small school. And, the drop in “ready to graduate” seems to effect most high schools as the Oregon average also drops from 85 percent on track in 9th grade to only 77 percent ready to graduate on time as seniors.
Meanwhile in the lower grades, modern kids are facing tougher and tougher expectations.
English Language Arts proved to be a hurdle for 3rd grade students with Enterprise kids who tested below the state average of 48 percent with a miserable 46 percent rating.
The district saw that one coming and is on top of it, Pinkerton said.
“Third grade is a grade where students transition from learning to read to reading to learn,” Pinkerton said. “This includes citing sources, finding resources and more. It’s a lot to grasp. They are also learning to type because the Smarter Balance state assessment is based on typed responses.”
Enterprise’s curriculum includes a new program called “Study Island” in addition to typing apps on student iPads to help those little kids understand the new information.
Enterprise is doing well in preparing students for math, with all grades showing improvement.
“We have targeted math since my first year, three years ago,” said Pinkerton. “With that we’ve had additional professional development for teachers, a focus on math vocabulary (so students know what a “quadrant” is, for instance). That slowed down the instructional process but we’re really pleased with the results.”
Kids K-6 also did well in science (86 percent meeting expectations) compared to the state average of 65 percent. There was a six percent decrease from last year. Those rates improve as the kids progress through the grades.
Joseph Charter School
Joseph’s on-track and on-time stats are nearly perfect. By 9th grade, 95 percent are on track and by graduation time 100 percent are ready to graduate.
So, something good is happening in the process of taking kids from kindergarten to graduation at Joseph Charter. That process seems to get off to a slow start in both English and mathematics.
The English language percentages look very worrying this report card, with 14 percent fewer kids performing at expectation in the third grade compared to last year. But Superintendent Lance Homan said they focus on the state averages and their own information year to year.
“I think there is always room for improvement but having percentages above the state average is always good,” Homan said.
In that respect Joseph Charter third graders still look pretty good, with 72 percent of third graders meeting expectations compared to the 48 percent Oregon average.
Last year mathematics was also a subject that required some serious addressing with only 14 percent of 8th-graders meeting expectations. This year that percentage more than doubled in the right direction, and Joseph Charter ended up with 29 percent. The elementary school is still far below the Oregon average, however. Homan says the school is very focused on improving student learning in math.
“Math is always an area our district puts a lot of emphasis on,” said Homan. “We’ve devoted some workdays to do math progressions (taking a concept and seeing how kids improve through the grade levels), we cut our Algebra 1 class in half (so there is a better teacher to student ratio), and we have the help of the newly hired WCESD math coach (Kayla Hull). We are always looking at how we can better support our teachers and kids.”
Wallowa School District
Wallowa has seen an impressive improvement in on-track stats for the 9th-graders, reporting a climb of 17 percent to 95 percent of students on track by 9th grade. That dropped precipitously in the high school years, however, with 88 percent of students ready for on-time graduation.
It looks bad on the report card, but Wallowa School District Superintendent Jay Hummel believes the size of student body is at play in those stats.
“That change can be caused of one student,” he said. Programs begun at the lower grades are proving wildly successful with 3rd grade English language arts, which was in the basement last year with just 17 percent performing at goal. Since then the percentage of students at goal jumped 36 percent to end with 54 percent of students performing at the desired level. The state average is 48 percent.
“That’s because of the Response to Intervention program begun by former superintendent Bret Uptmor,” Hummel said. “We have the ability, given our size and the community support, to focus on each individual child. We continue to work on that process. We spend time breaking down the levels to where we are with individual kids. If we stay diligent I think those hills and valleys will level out over time and that will be reflected in our state testing.”
Math performance was at 46 percent in 8th grade in this year’s report card, above the state average of 41 percent and up from last year by four percent as well. The overall math readiness percentage, however, was just 40 percent — below the state average.
Expect to see better, Hummel said.
“I think that was something that the previous super and teachers have been addressing,” Hummel said. “We’re now spending time doing similar interventions on math that we’re doing on reading. Right now there is a pretty active conversation in the county, led by WCESD, around formative types of assessment for little kids. Also, the math tutor, Kayla Hull, has been fantastic. I think that’s going to produce great results for us.”
The student readiness in Science also dropped by seven percent overall — again a percentage that Hummel did not find significant beyond a single student struggle (which Wallowa can address). The school is still well above the state average of 65 percent with a Wallowa Schools percentage of 81.