Pleased overall with students’ performance in the area of literacy, officials with the DeForest Area School District have concerns about how some minority and special education groups are doing.
A monitoring report unanimously approved by the school board at its meeting Monday, Nov. 25, gave the district a mark of “making reasonable progress” in literacy, due to the majority of students continuing to meet or exceed attainment goals. There were exceptions, though.
Disparities among certain populations in the district remain troubling.
“That portion of the student body is where we need to zero in our efforts,” said Superintendent Eric Runez.
While not all the news was good, Runez appreciated the honesty of the report.
“We’re not sugarcoating the data,” said Runez.
Runez said the district did take a step backward with some of its subgroups. School Board Member Jeff Miller said he was worried about how students of color were doing with regard to literacy.
“It is concerning to me,” said Miller, who indicated that if progress isn’t made in a year or two, he wouldn’t be able to accept similar findings in a literacy report. Runez responded, “We’re all in agreement.”
In the report, Runez wrote that the school board values students being able “to comprehend, reason with and express critical textual, numerical and symbolic information,” and that “a child’s ability to read and do mathematics are essential skills for academic success in all other subject areas.”
The literacy report comes separate from another report due later that will address numeracy and content knowledge.
A number of indicators of how the district doing when it comes to literacy were included in the report. The first shows the district’s percentage of student who meet or exceed the benchmark of proficiency in reading for grades four and eight on the state standardized test for all students versus the state percentage of students who do likewise.
Both DeForest fourth and eighth graders scored about the state average of their counterparts in the three components of the Wisconsin Forward Exam that measures literacy, although DeForest’s scores fell in two of the three areas for both classes.
Fourth graders improved in “vocabulary use,” going from 54.7 percent in 2018 to 62.8 in 2019.
Director of Instruction Rebecca Toetz was encouraged by that showing.
“That’s been a big focus of instruction in the last year, so it’s good to see that,” said Toetz, who presented the monitoring report to the board.
However, their scores fell in “key ideas and details,” dropping to 53.7 percent from 60.1 in 2018, and in “craft and structure/interpretation of knowledge and ideas,” falling from 64.4 percent in 2018 to 56.1 in 2019.
Eighth graders scored slightly better in “key ideas and details” in 2019, improving to 63.1 percent after scoring 62.1 percent in 2018, but their scores declined from 62.6 in 2018 to 58.3 in 2019 in “craft and structure/interpretation of knowledge and ideas” and from 67.6 in 2019 in “vocabulary use” to 59.6.
In total, the percentage of DeForest fourth graders that scored proficient or advanced in English Language Arts dropped from 49 percent in 2018 to 44.5 percent in 2019, but still finished ahead of the state 2019 average of 43.8 percent. Eighth graders surpassed the state average in this category in 2019 with a score of 42.3 percent, compared to the state average of 37.3 percent.
A second indicator looks at all subgroups in fourth and eighth grades that scored at or above proficiency in all three areas measuring literacy. Fourth grade students in six classifications scored below the state average, including those identified in the non-free and reduced lunch group, special education, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, Black/African American, and White, while eighth graders in the subgroups of special education, English Language Learners (ELL) and Asian scored lower than the state average.
An indicator at the high school level provided a mixed bag of news. In 2018, ACT takers from DeForest exceeded the statewide composite scores in reading and writing for all students. In reading, DeForest students had a 22.4 composite score, with a 6.4 in writing. Composite scores in reading took a slight dip, falling to 21.4, compared to the state average of 20.2. DeForest fell below the state average in writing, with a 6.2 in 2019. The state average is 6.3.
The fourth indicator pushes for district average scores in reading and writing on the ACT to exceed statewide average composite scores in those areas for all subgroups. Last spring, the average composite scores DeForest students in the Asian subgroup were lower than their state counterparts in reading and writing.
In just the writing portion of the ACT, DeForest students identified in the free and reduced lunch, non-free and reduced lunch, non-special education, non-English Language Learners, Asian, Black, multiple ethnicities and white categories scored lower than the same groups statewide. There are 133 Asian students in the district and 126 students categorized as Black.
A fifth indicator calls for 100 percent of all DeForest students in grades 1-6 to maintain and show growth in their percentile ranks from fall to spring on the iReady assessment in reading. In the spring of 2018, 53.8 percent of those students hit those marks, while that percentage fell to 52 percent in 2019.
From the report, there was good news aside from the fourth grade vocabulary scores. DeForest’s percentage of students who achieved proficient and advanced in all areas of English Language Arts on the Forward Exam exceeded students statewide. District ACT takers also scored higher on the reading portion of the ACT than the state average, while students that qualify for free and reduced lunch in DeForest scored near or higher than similarly classified students statewide on the Forward Exam and the ACT. Also, DeForest special education students scored higher than the state average in ACT reading.
Areas for concern included: DeForest ELL students scored lower than the rest of the ELL students in the state in many literacy areas; special education students scored lower than the state average in fourth and eighth grade; growth scores in literacy measured by iReady assessments were lower than desired; and disparities between subgroups continue to exist.
In working to achieve district literacy goals, steps are being taken. One is maximizing ELL programming. There remains a teaching position open in that area. Secondly, the district wants to build the capacity of its teachers to deliver more rigorous instruction with the district’s Professional Learning Community and assistance from instructional coaches. Creating more realistic changes for iReady growth goals in literacy is another, while the district strives to continue raising expectations for special education students with Individual Education Programs.
Utilizing professional development to show teachers how to use accommodations in Forward testing to assist students is also on the list, as is continued professional development on all components of balanced literacy to address literacy basics, such as phonics, grammar, comprehension and vocabulary.
Toetz doesn’t want to see the district lower its literacy goals.
“I want you to hold us accountable,” said Toetz, speaking to the board. “We don’t want to change our high expectations.”
Miller asked staff to provide input on what they need from the board to get the literacy results the district wants, and School Board President Jan Berg said, “It’s good to have the data, whether it’s good news or bad news.”