Math is a subject where the DeForest Area School District is not doing as well as expected.
On Monday, the DeForest Area School Board reviewed academic progress in the area of numeracy, with Superintendent Eric Runez declaring that the district is failing to make reasonable progress after reviewing the evidence.
Runez said there are areas school officials have identified where improvements can be made, and he believes they are taking the right steps to turn things around.
“I will say that I do feel the need for us to stay the course,” said Runez.
Among the most troubling data points was a drop in the percentage of fourth and eighth graders meeting or exceeding the benchmark of proficiency on state standardized tests for math – namely, the Wisconsin Forward Exam.
In 2018, that percentage was 49.2 percent, compared to the state average of 41.7 percent. DeForest’s percentage dropped to 39.7 percent in 2019, with the state average falling to 41.3 percent. Those scores represent the combined performance of fourth and eighth graders. DeForest fourth graders actually scored better than their state counterparts by 49.7 percent to 46.3 percent, while eighth graders did worse than the state average.
There was some good news mixed with the bad. In the spring of 2018, DeForest students with limited English language proficiency (English Language Learners or ELL) performed below their state counterparts on the math portion of the Forward exam. That changed in 2019, as they and students identified with multiple ethnicities performed better than those populations statewide, with 29.4 percent scoring proficient or advanced compared to the state figure of 12.4 percent.
Also, DeForest Area High School juniors continue to do better on the math portion of the ACT than the rest of the state, although their scores dipped slightly. In 2018, their composite score of 20.9 exceeded the state average of 20.0, while in 2019, their composite score was 19.8. The state ACT math composite score in 2019 was 19.6.
In its results monitoring, school officials look at seven indicators. The last intends to ensure that 90 percent of all students in grades 5, 7 and 9 receive a grade of C or better in each subject area. In math, all three groups equaled or exceeded that percentage, as seventh graders jumped from 93.2 percent to 97.2 percent. The other two saw slight declines.
Looking at subgroups, only two lagged behind their peers in 2018 – those identified as Asian and in the multiple ethnicities category. A year later, four were trailing their counterparts. They were those in the free and reduced lunch and non-free and reduced lunch categories, as well as those considered Asian and White.
“Subgroups significantly changed from last year to this year,” said Director of Instruction Rebecca Toetz. She said staff was definitely watching the ELL group, which experienced “a big uptick,” she explained. Toetz also reported that ELL students had higher grades in 2018-19 than in the past, as 93.8 percent had a C or better in each subject area.
Toetz also noted a disparity in the Asian subgroup. Out of eight subjects, the percentage of Asian students scoring a C or higher was greater than 90 percent in all of them, except English Language Arts, although that group did improve from 72.1 percent in 2018 to 89.7 percent in 2019. However, they are not doing as well on standardized tests.
“The achievement they’re showing is lower than what their grades are,” said Toetz, who explained that officials want to look at how they are connecting with the curriculum and engaging in class to see why there is such a difference.
Technology was also part of Monday’s monitoring report. Learning Information Systems Coordinator Kimberly Bannigan reported on that area. There was an increase in the number of devices in grades 5-12 that has expanded student opportunities. She also said many are using technology in library activities and noted that a high percentage feel confident about their own skills.
With the ACT math score above the state average, ELL students scoring at or above the state average of their peers, and over 90 percent of students in fifth, seventh and ninth grade receiving a C or better in their coursework, the data reveal some academic strengths in the area of numeracy.
Opportunities to get better are there. Staff is continuing to align its common assessments to standards. With more rigor, school officials expect the percentage of students scoring C or better in their classes and those that score proficient or advanced on state testing to match.
The hiring of English as a Second Language teachers and an assistant is expected to maximize DeForest’s ELL programming. Aligning instruction and materials with the expectations of subject standards is also part of an action plan that has a lot of steps, according to Toetz.
A lot of it has to do with professional development. Regarding that, Toetz said, “It comes down to time and money,” as school officials look to increase time in the schedule for math instruction at the 5-8 grade levels to 75 minutes, as opposed to 45.
A change in lunch schedules at the middle school level could make a difference, according to Toetz.
Runez is looking ahead to completion of the middle school and intermediate school referendum projects for the 2021-2022 school year in eyeing shifts in scheduling that could carve out more instruction time for math.
“It’s clear that with instructional minutes we devote to math, it is extremely evident that we are falling short in the time we apply to math,” said Runez.
However, if more time is added for math, it may lead to less time for other subjects.
“It’s part of the eco-system of the schedule,” said Runez. “It’s going to impact something else.”
Everyone is looking for answers in trying to change things for the better.
“We’ll have experts help us peel back the reasons why because we are disappointed in this data,” said Toetz.
Some reporting indicators with regard to iReady testing may need to be made, as well. Board Vice President Steve Tenpas said that the way they are reporting in these areas may be erroneous.
“As we go forward as a board, we have to look at each policy to see if the indicators are getting us what we want,” said School Board President Jan Berg.
With regard to time and money, Board Member Jeff Miller said, “That is where the board has the ability to affect results.” He added, “At some point in the next three to four years, we have to start showing improvement.”