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Articles from June 2015

The value of data for instruction

One of the Ames Community School Board’s most important roles is understanding the story behind student assessment data and how teachers, instructional coaches and principals use data to adjust instruction for each student, then helping the community understand the value in this work.

Recently, District staff presented the Board with an in-depth and up-to-date review of the various assessments conducted during the course of a school year.

Director Mike Espeset said the update helped him understand the complex assessment plan and contemplate ways the Board can support student achievement.

“It’s helpful to know how and why tests are given, how they differ and what the data are used for,” he said.

Associate Superintendent Mandy Ross said the District provides a range of assessments that are required for state and federal reporting as well as assessments to meet locally determined goals.

“The required assessments serve multiple purposes such as evaluating the effectiveness of District instructional programs, helping to identify professional development needs, and meeting state and federal reporting requirements,”  she said.

Each year, Iowa requires students to take the Iowa Assessment along with locally determined second assessments for reading, science, math and social studies. The District reports data from these assessments in its Adequate Yearly Progress report—to meet state-approved federal (No Child Left Behind) requirements for standardized testing—and in its Annual Progress Report, which is based on proficiency goals for reading, math, science and social studies, determined locally by educators and members of the School Improvement Advisory Council.

Ross said it’s always a challenge to strike the right balance with learning goals.

“Our task is to formulate goals that ensure continuous growth for our students and our programs ” Ross said.

Ross said the District’s Education Plan helps guide decisions for using data so that instruction meets individual student’s needs and curriculum and professional development provides teachers and staff the skills to do so. The Education Plan focuses on four student-centered questions: What do we want all students to learn? How will we know when they’ve learned it? What will we do when they’ve learned it? What will we do if they don’t learn it? Data is a key to answering each of those questions.

The District uses Iowa Assessment data in conjunction with other data to give a more complete picture of the areas where individual students and groups of students are making progress and where they could benefit from additional enrichment or support, Ross said.

“We’re still aligning our instruction with the Common Core,” she said. “However, the Iowa Assessment is not a direct match with the Core. It is only a single data point, but it’s one measuring stick we have to compare ourselves with everyone else. However, our additional assessments allow teachers to monitor student learning more frequently and is more indicative of student growth, thereby allowing instruction to be adjusted regularly.”

Besides annual standardized tests, the District conducts screening and diagnostic tests such as FAST (Formative Assessment System for Teachers), GRADE (Group Reading Assessment and Diagnostic Evaluation) and GMADE (Group Math Assessment and Diagnostic Evaluation), to determine what students have mastered and where they need additional support or extension. FAST, which is a state-mandated screening test, is administered to students in grades K-3 three times during the school year. GRADE and GMADE are administered to secondary students in the fall, and again in the spring to those students who were not proficient.

In addition, the District conducts reading benchmarking three times a year to determine elementary students’ accuracy, fluency and comprehension. It also identifies students’ highest independent reading level and their instructional reading range. This assessment helps teachers identify each child’s reading needs, adjust instruction, and monitor growth.

With this range of assessments, the District is able to track and analyze trends in student cohorts from year to year as well as monitoring each subject areas in each grade.

While all data help in monitoring the quality of instructional programs, Data and Assessment Coordinator Dan Andrews said the trends for cohorts, which are groups of students moving through grade levels, are more specific for evaluating progress in student learning. Teacher and principals “drill” into those cohort data at the building level to monitor individual student progress.

Ross said benefit of the data from assessments comes to fruition when teachers become adept at using them to adjust instruction.

“Our professional development priority is supporting teachers in professional learning communities, or PLCs, grasp how to use share data and improve teaching strategies to meet the needs of each and every student.”

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Demolition begins on Meeker building

Crews will demolish the former Meeker building over the course of a four-week period that began the week of June 8. Facilities Maintenance and Planning Director Gerry Peters said work will proceed as quickly as possible so paving and landscaping can begin around the new building.

Although heavy rain, lightning and thunderstorms could cause delays, some rain can be an advantage, Peters said.

“Light rain actually provides favorable conditions for demolition because it reduces dust,” he said.

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Super Summer class helps students take action on poverty

Alex Monroe, who is entering eighth grade, learned something unexpected about poverty when his parents didn’t give him a choice about attending the Super Summer class, Community Action Program for Students.

“My mom signed me up,” Alex said. “She said she didn’t want me sitting around playing video games all summer.”

Alex, along with students who did choose to enroll in the CAPS class, has spent nearly two weeks learning how the causes of poverty—and ways to solve it— are complex issues.

For example, people in poverty have limited choices when it comes to getting their basic needs met, according to Sipele Quezada, the Ames Community School District’s Homeless/Connect Coordinator, who’s teaching the course.

This concept resonated with Alex, who said, “It doesn’t feel good to have no choice. I feel kind of angry.”

Alex said he is learning more from the course than he expected, however.

“The average age of a homeless American is 9 years old —that was surprising to me,” he said. “I thought it was like an old guy under the bridge.”

Cassidy Peterson, who said she chose the course because she likes helping people and wanted to learn what poverty truly entails, said she didn’t realize so many factors contribute to poverty.

“I thought poverty was just not having enough money to buy things,” she said.  “It’s more than that. You can get evicted and bad things can happen in a chain of events.”

Cassidy said she’s learning to not judge people.

“You never know what they’ve been through,” she said.

Roni Ben-Shlomo said she chose the course because wanted to know what people in poverty have been through.

“I wanted to do a poverty simulation,” she said. “Now I want more people to understand what poverty is like. I have an idea for a tutorial at the middle school in home room class or handouts for students to show their parents so they would understand.  I think everybody needs to understand what poverty is.”

Cassidy said she thinks helping students understand poverty would reduce clique behavior at school.

“People are usually classified into groups,” she said. “And it’s kind of mean. I’d like to have more team building activities so we get to know each other better.”

Roni said more people need to understand poverty in order for change to happen.

“Being friends with people in poverty and welcoming them into our groups is a good place to start,” she said.

Quezada says helping families find strong relationships and informal supports is a key component to ending the cycle of poverty and dependency on systematic support.

The CAPS class was created on the momentum of the Community Action Poverty Simulation for community leaders this past April, Quezada said, to give fifth-through-eighth grade students the opportunity to learn about poverty and homelessness, participate in various poverty simulations, and hear from community organizations who serve students and families in poverty.

“We do have homelessness and poverty in Ames, but because it doesn’t look like the images on television, many residents don’t realize the extent of the problem,” Quezada said. “If we want to create change in our community, we need more people to know and understand this.”

Quezada said one expectation for the class is for students take use something they learned and develop a plan to helps schools or community address the needs of students and families.

“The class’ success has far exceeded my expectations,” she said. “It’s amazing to see the compassion these students have for their peers. Their eagerness to get involved and lead change is energizing.”

Super Summer is a two-week summer program for high-ability students that offers special courses not generally accessible in the regular school curriculum, taught by a community professionals or instructors in student’s chosen fields of interest, and giving students an opportunity to study a particular subject content area in-depth.

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Engage with our new website!

Our redesigned website has launched. The new design showcases the news, work and accomplishments of students and staff, invites engagement from families and community members, and provides information in a convenient and appealing format.

Here’s a brief summary of its features:

  • The front page displays news in key areas: feature news stories, strategic initiatives, upcoming events, and other news and updates. A new feature called “Profiles of Excellence” gives snapshots of students and staff.
  • The navigation menu links to all our departments and services, but provides these new features:
    Top-level menu for parents and students, community and staff to quickly access information they’re most likely to seek.

    • Quick Links, located just below the feature news,provide another tool to find frequently-accessed pages and online tools.
    • The Digital Backpack is enhanced. It links to the District calendar and also allows folks to submit their events and flyers online for approval.
  • About the calendar: You may filter the calendar to choose which schools and categories you want to view. We recommend keeping the Digital Backpack in your filter! In the gray menu bar at the top of the main content area, you may click the Calendar at a Glance to see the PDF of Board-approved District dates. You may also subscribe to the calendar to add it to your own.
  • The Directory provides pull-down menus for schools and departments. Scroll down the Directory Page to nominate an outstanding staff member!
    The website also provides automated form submission for items such as public records and research requests that previously were filled out by hand.

For parents still in the process of filling out school forms, you will find those listed by school here. There’s also a link under District quick links.

There are still a few layers to tweak: such as reloading our district logo to the server so it shows up on our Infinite Campus messages, and updating the links to our district mobile app. Thanks for your patience and cooperation.

Our developer and ongoing partner is Juicebox Interactive.

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Juicebox Interactive