Elementary school principals stood behind the podium at Tuesday’s Carson City School Board meeting to contest the quality of education in reading and mathematics, and how a grant may assist with efforts, despite results from national standardized tests.
An assessment review from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium was presented to display reading and mathematics test results from Carson City elementary and middle schools. About 3,395 students in the district took the test.
Ricky Medina, director of assessment and accountability of CCSD, said the local schools are slightly under proficiency compared to the state. Locally, the reading proficiency in elementary schools is 46 percent, and 36 percent in mathematics.
However, Empire and Fremont Elementary Schools scored low in the SBAC tests.
In the state’s educational improvement plan, the expectation for reading is higher than math, said Susan Keema, associate superintendent of educational services. Reading scores should be at least 51 percent for this year and in math, the bench mark is 36 percent.
Empire and Fremont are applying for the Nevada Department of Education Transformation grant in October.
Board member Ron Swirczek said he hasn’t seen major improvements with the tests scores in the last six years.
“Why could a couple of schools in our district, including a title I school, come to the top with all of the criteria discussed and others are not?” he said.
Susan Squires, new principal of Empire Elementary School, said 305 students were on individual learning plans last year; 40 of them ended the year at or above their percentile goals, and returned to school with the same numbers.
“It’s huge progress for our kids, especially coming off of summer,” she said. “The effort our teachers put in last year, we’re seeing that transfer this year. We’re going to continue seeing an increase.”
Ruthlee Caloiaro, principal of Mark Twain Elementary School, said although reading proficiency test scores resulted in 45 percent in the school, students have shown significant improvement.
“Growth did not happen overnight,” she said. “It started four years ago when I became principal. We made interventions based on data from testing and worked with those students and over a two-year time period, we saw growth and I anticipate we’ll see it again.”
Keema said each school’s reading programs and instructors are qualified to support students who may be struggling.
But what’s truly making a difference is the synergy in education environments, she said.
“There’s a target on these kids’ back in a positive way,” she said. “It’s not so much about the peripheral stuff, it’s about their focus on the kids. Good leaders in the school bring that synergy in the school.”
Board member Mike Walker added his concerns on how and if the grant will enhance scores in the future.
“I’m not sure if bringing in an outside vendor is going to improve the synergy of the schools,” he said. “I’m not sure if that’s going to confuse our efforts.”
Walker said schools such as Fritsch and Seeliger don’t have the same resources as Title I schools, such as hiring tutors. He said the schools need to explore further resources.
However, he said he doesn’t want teachers to feel like they’re being blamed.
“We have to get all hands on deck,” he said. “As we examine how we’re going to take these next steps, it needs to be in an uplifting and positive manner.”
But Jennifer Ward DeJoseph, new principal of Fremont Elementary, said teachers and staff at the schools do share some of the blame. She said there’s a reality of what it is, especially when it comes to comparing Carson’s elementary schools to other districts.
However, there are 28 schools in Washoe County and 33 in Clark County that qualify for the transformation grant, DeJoseph said.
In Carson City? Two schools.
“We have test scores and we’re the ones working with our students,” she said. “It’s really hard to be positive about telling your staff that you’re the lowest scoring school in the district. Don’t assign blame but accept responsibility. But we’re on the right track.”
Keema said with the new principals at the elementary schools, there’s a sense of urgency to increase scores and leadership to encourage students to plan for the future.
“It’s not just about the graduation rates,” she said. “It’s about making sure we can graduate kids, but they’re not always prepared for college and careers.”
Board President Laurel Crossman also addressed her concern if English Language Learners are affecting scores.
One of the goals of going forward is to increase focus on exiting ELL learners within the next five years.
But altogether, Board Vice President Ryan Green said an idea is to gather results without ELL students to see if there’s a difference.
In the assessment, English Language Learners and Special Education students scored lower than the average student.
“Is our percentage better and is our county on par with other special populations?” he said. “Should we ask our neighbor counties about what they’re doing? Our scores are horrible and we need to take a step in action.”
Keema said the district’s ELL demographics aren’t similar to most counties in the state; if similar to any, it’s Clark and Washoe counties, she said.
Crossman said ELL learners make up 20 percent of Carson City.
“I don’t want teachers or administrators think they’re doing a bad job,” said Board Member Joe Cacioppo. “But there’s a frustration. Other schools in other districts and states seem to be doing better than what we’re doing. But it’s not that teachers and staff aren’t doing a good job. We do have appreciation but we just need to find that light bulb that gets us from point A to B.”
In the state overall, 48 percent of students were recorded proficient in reading at elementary schools and 47 percent in middle schools. In mathematics, results showed 42 percent in elementary schools and 26 percent in middle.
As for local middle schools, results are higher in reading with 47.4 percent, but lower in mathematics with 24 percent.
Leading the charts in each subject in Carson City elementary schools in Bordewich Bray and Carson Montessori with highest percentages.
The district’s ideal plans of going forward are to revamp math and science curriculum for K-8 grades, and continue Read By Grade Three with grades K-3.