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Wausau School District elementary assessments show slight achievement growth

John Marshall Elementary School, Wausau
John Marshall Elementary School, Wausau(WSAW Tom Zurawski)
Published: Jan. 27, 2022 at 4:31 PM CST
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Nearly all schools have noted that student learning was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic disruptions. Wausau School District assessment data for its elementary school students, however, is beginning to show slight gains in scores between this school year’s fall and winter assessments.

Monday, the district presented its elementary students’ assessments to the school board’s education/operations committee. The district’s current goal for student achievement, which was set in 2018 as part of the district’s strategic plan, is to have a “30% increase in the number of students meeting or exceeding proficiency reading, writing, and mathematics as evidenced by scores on state and local assessments.”

In the meeting, the vice president of the board asked the director of learning and student achievement, Chris Nyman, whether they believed they would meet their goal. He said he did not think so.

“We didn’t feel like we should adjust the goal at this point ‘cause though we might not make it, we’d rather struggle trying, than lowering the bar just to say that we made it.”

While they may not meet that goal, there is good news. The district told 7 Investigates in a statement in part:

Now that students are back in our buildings full-time for the 2021-2022 school year, many students who struggled are catching up; ending up right where they need to be academically. For instance, if we look at our FastBridge assessment data, we’ve seen moderate growth between the fall of 2021 and winter of 2022 in reading and math for grades 2-9. That’s more growth than we saw last school year during that time - when students learned from home for part of the year. That speaks volumes about the work our staff is doing to make sure students are where they need to be. But, we still have work to do; making sure we see even more students grow year to year academically.

The data presented at the school board meeting only showcased assessments of grades K-5 for Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln, Hawthorn, GD Jones, Grant, and Franklin elementary schools. Each of those schools were considered high poverty schools last school year, meaning at least 60% of students enrolled qualify for reduced lunch pricing.

The district uses FastBridge assessments, which happen at the beginning, middle, and end of each school year. FastBridge is used as an “achievement strand leading indicator,” which helps them to predict future outcomes in student achievement, like whether they will be able to meet their 2023 and annual goals. For reading, FastBridge assesses all five areas of literacy: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. For math, it assesses a comprehensive list of foundation skills that are predictors of how students will perform on the Forward Exam or the state’s assessment in the spring.

For math, 59% of students in grades 2-9 who took the assessment in the fall met or exceeded expectations. That went up by 1% when students were reassessed in the winter. Reading saw the same 1% change in students meeting or exceeding expectations, going from 61% to 62%, respectively.

For the data presented to the board Monday, it shared reading and math scores from the fall and winter assessments at each of its elementary schools for grade-level groups K-1 and 2-5. The FastBridge assessment categorizes student scores as either high-risk, some-risk, low-risk, or exceeds expectations. It also measured the rate of student growth for each subject and grade-level group. The majority of schools saw more typical or aggressive growth than modest or flat growth.

All schools in all grades saw very minor changes to the percentage of students scoring in the exceeds category, though Lincoln’s 2-5 grade student scores had the biggest growth in that category, increasing by 5% between the fall and winter. Overall, the largest changes in the percentage of students scoring in particular categories were seen as students shifting between some-risk and low-risk.

Looking over both subjects, Hawthorn Hills had the biggest success moving students out of the high-risk scoring category from fall to winter. For math, it moved 7% of students in K-1 and 4% of 2-5 grade students out of that category. For reading, it moved 8% of K-1 students and 5% of 2-5 students.

Reading

Overall, across all schools and grades in reading, there were slight gains in scores.

Several schools saw increases in K-1 students falling into the some-risk or high-risk category from fall to winter, except for GD Jones, Grant, and Hawthorn Hills. GD Jones saw the biggest growth in the percentage of students in that grade group in the low-risk scores from fall to winter, going from 44% in the fall to 57% in the winter.

Lincoln saw the largest negative change in its K-1 students, with the split between the risk levels (high and some risk vs. low and exceeds) going from 51%-49% to having 32% more students being in the some- or high-risk scoring range. The majority of those scores increased in risk were in the “some-risk” range, with a decrease from fall to winter in the “high-risk” scores.

It is a brighter picture for the 2-5 grade students. Overall, scores either were flat or increase from fall to winter, with the exception of Grant. Nine percent of students at Grant in 2-5 grade who scored in the low-risk or exceeds categories (8% being in the low-risk category) saw scores drop to scores categorized as some-risk.

Grant also saw the biggest increase in the number of K-1 students scoring in the high-risk category from fall to winter, going from 18% to a quarter of students, a difference of 7%.

Math

The majority of students across schools in K-1 in math scored in the low-risk or exceeds category in the fall. By the winter, most schools still had more K-1 students in those categories, but all except Franklin lost at least some students to the some- or high-risk categories. Lincoln and Grant both saw 11% of K-1 students shift from the low-risk and exceeds categories to the some- and high-risk categories, though, Grant saw a slight reduction in students in the high-risk category. Lincoln’s percentage remained the same in the high-risk scores.

Math scores in most schools for the 2-5 grade students saw at least slight gains from the fall to the winter. Jefferson was the only school with a higher percentage of students with low-risk and exceeds scores compared to the riskier categories. GD Jones’ students in those grades were split 50-50 between the low-risk and exceeds, and the high-risk and some-risk categories.

Grant saw the biggest growth for 2-5 grade students, with 11% of students shifting from either the some- or high-risk scores to low-risk or exceeds scores.

GD Jones Elementary had the biggest success moving 2-5 grade students out of the high-risk category, with a change of 8% from the fall to the winter.

Action plans

The district noted it is keeping a close eye on these assessments, responding to the results and students’ changes in needs over time. It has scheduled district and school administrator learning and collaboration days to go over the data as part of the continuous improvement planning process. The data includes the academic assessments, as well as social/emotional learning and development data.

In addition, they have professional learning and coaching times set to help staff meet the district’s strategic plan goals and meet the needs of students. They plan to continue evaluating the effectiveness of teaching practices and the impact of professional learning. Included in that evaluation, as set in the strategic plan, is whether they are creating an environment of respect and rapport, establishing a culture of learning, and demonstrating flexibility and responsiveness. Teachers are also working with students to help each student set goals for themselves and evaluate those goals.

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