With reading and math being some of the most vigorous subjects in elementary schools, students are showing an increase in achievement but there’s still more improvement that needs to be accomplished, Carson City School District officials and board members stated at Tuesday’s board meeting.
One of the biggest achievements Carson City elementary school students are making is meeting the requirements of the state’s Read By Grade Three program, also known as the Nevada K.I.D.S. (Keeping their Individual Dreams Strong). The program calls for Nevada students to read proficiently by third grade before being promoted to fourth grade.
According to Nathan Brigham, the district’s lead learning strategist, there are fewer deficient students in elementary schools compared to last year. In the 2016-17 academic school year, when the law first launched, the reading deficiency total in the district’s K-5 began with 782 students. By spring 2017, that number decreased to 536.
Over the summer, Carson City was featured at the state school board meeting as one of the best performing RB3 districts in the state and highlighted Empire Elementary School for its results.
“There’s been growth in my class,” said Theresa Marler, first grade teacher at Empire. “My students increased an average of 33 percentile points from the fall to spring assessment. The Individual Learning Process and its structure help me put my ducks in a row more than I already have.”
However, 640 students are calculated to be deficient for fall 2017, and at least 200 of them are expected to repeat third grade this year, Brigham said.
But Brigham said those results are expected to shrink in the future.
“This is not an easy job or process,” he said. “There are over 700 students in the district with individual learning plans. But the results we got from last year would have not been possible without the teachers.”
With at least 90 minutes of intervention and updating Individual Learning Plans, Marler said developing an ILP for each student is a challenge, as it requires consistent updates and meetings with not only the student but also the parents.
“It’s successful but a taxing job,” she said. “There’s a struggle balancing quantity over quality with the material, on top of working overtime and having it affect our personal lives. It makes me weary because of it.”
This academic year at Empire Elementary, 27 percent of students passed in reading, with 25 percent in math; the school’s Access and SBAC assessments scores show students perform lowest in writing.
Principal Susan Squires said in order for students to succeed in math, science, and even history, it’s important they succeed in writing first — which all boils down to reading proficiency.
“Our writing skills in the school have changed incredibly,” she said. “But for classes such as science and math, we have to instruct our kids on writing first. You can’t integrate that into math and science if they can’t write.”
Fremont Elementary School is developing a similar improvement plan with Empire, as 35 percent of students scored proficient in reading and 23 percent in math. During the 2015-16 year, the percentages were slightly higher.
One of the RB3 requirements is to group ILP students, but Marler said the quality just isn’t enough. She also said parents are attentive when it comes to conferences concerning ILPs, but it’s obvious many of them are working multiple jobs.
“I love the children I work for and I continuously put in that effort,” she said. “But it’s a challenge.”
To further promote improvements and teacher initiatives, the district is planning to apply an RB3 grant of $1.4 million toward teacher stipends, learning strategists, interventionists, tutors, summer school and before and after school programs.
As far as interventionists go, the district will need at least six positions to fill and will most likely hire graduates from the University of Nevada, Reno.
But the district may have to apply for another grant next year to fulfill all of these goals — or create new initiatives going forward.
“Last year, teachers were concerned about the organization and process of the program,” Brigham said. “But now this year, it’s all about the funding.”
The goal for RB3 locally is for teachers to achieve 20 percent reduction in deficient students. To achieve this the district wants to increase family school partnerships, ILP refinements with strategists, and create assessment matching standards for all grade levels.
For Empire and Fremont’s reading and mathematic goals, both principals expressed early release times would be part of the solution as an opportunity for teachers to produce quality learning content for students.
“This would give us the time to train teachers, staff engagement, and help build instructor capacity for these improvements,” said Jennifer Ward-DeJoseph, principal of Fremont.
Ward-DeJoseph said the district will need to understand the impact of poverty and address it through instruction decisions and parental relationships, while providing teachers instructional practice and expanding the staff to better the education for students.
The goals of schools also involve circulating lessons plans around the Access, MAP SBAC test, and offer students the opportunity to get involved in the Northern Nevada Writing Project with UNR. The goal is to get 50 percent or more students to achieve in reading proficiency.
With the clock almost striking midnight, board members agreed to provide support along the way.
“I know there’s a tremendous job ahead,” said Mike Walker, board member. “We want to support all students, staff, and teachers — and we want to get involved.”