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Student Literacy Rates Are Improving

Winter Testing Showing Positive Growth

February 15, 2017
by Dan Voigt , Emmetsburg News

Since 2015, schools in the state of Iowa have been graded, for lack of a better term, on the job they are doing in educating their students. By using standardized testing, the Iowa Department of Education is able to evaluate the progress of students in each school district in the state. Those districts receive a rating based on their student achievement testing scores.

For school districts, the information is invaluable, as it provides educators a true picture of what their students are excelling in and what subjects need additional emphasis for students.

In the most recently released Iowa School Report Card, Emmetsburg's West Elementary was rated as 'Needing Improvement', basing the rating on student proficiency rates in math and reading, student academic growth, narrowing achievement gaps among students, college and career readiness, student attendance, graduation rates, and staff retention.

While at first glance, such a rating might seem foreboding, such is not the case, according to West Elementary Principal Joe Carter.

"The report cards issued by the Department of Education don't necessarily tell the whole story," Carter noted. "They do measure the performance of our students, but when we look at our most recent testing period, we are seeing improvement all around."

When the Department of Educations lists a rating on a school, that overall school rating does not provide contextual information about a school nor does it make a conclusion about the quality of the staff or provide important information about ongoing work to raise student achievement. A composite score used to make the ratings is generated from multiple years of data that depicts a stable picture of performance across time.

"We just concluded our Winter FAST testing," Carter explained. "The FAST assessment is the universal screen that we use for all students in Pre-Kindergarten through Fourth grade for literacy. We take the FAST assessment three times a year, in the Fall, Winter and Spring."

According to the Iowa Code dealing with student literacy, schools that are persistently "at risk" in the area of literacy must notify the parents of their students as to that fact. But, for a student to be considered persistently at risk, they would have to score below benchmark levels for two testing periods in a row.

After the Winter FAST assessments at West, 77.24 percent of the students are adequately progressing at benchmarks. Put in context, the state average for the same assessment is 67.42, and in Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency, which serves the Emmetsburg School District, the average is 65.03 percent. In May of 2016, the Spring FAST assessment showed West Elementary students were at 69.66 percent adequate progress.

The largest percentage of change for West occurred for Pre-schoolers, who were at 15.38 percent at the Fall FAST assessment, and improved to 69.05 percent adequately progressing, an increase of 53.67 percent.

The second graders tested in the Fall assessment at 70.21 percent proficient, but slipped slightly to 66.00 percent proficient in the Winter assessment, a decline of 4.21 percent.

For the Emmetsburg Middle School, the Winter FAST assessment came in with an average proficiency of 54.79 percent, which was down from the 59.13 percent level measured after the Spring 2016 FAST assessment. The State Average for the Winter FAST assessment was 67.18 percent, with the Prairie Lakes AEA Winter Assessment average ranking being 64.21 percent.

Fifth graders were 58.57 proficient in the Fall assessment, but dropped 3.64 percent for the Winter assessment. Sixth graders tested at 66.67 percent proficient in their Fall assessment, and improved by 2.68 percent to 69.35 percent proficient after the Winter FAST assessment.

Carter noted that The Iowa School Report Card is a useful tool that can create a constructive dialog between educators, school administrators and parents and community members about the work under way to prepare students for success and to help them achieve their full potential.

"For the most part, we're very excited about the improvement our students here at West have made so far in the school year," Carter noted. "We are looking at the second grade to see where we need to address that drop off. We're also looking at the results from the Middle School, and the staff is addressing those concerns. Our staff is always working to help the students improve, doing so through our Professional Learning Committees (PLC's) and In-service sessions. This is a work in progress that is always changing."

District patrons who have questions or want to learn more about FAST assessments and the education of area students are encouraged to contact Joe Carter at West Elementary at 712-852-4485 or via email at



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