Preliminary results for Garden City USD 457 2018 math and English/language arts state assessments show the district’s steady improvements in math scores and mixed results in English language arts, but both remain below state averages.

“We’re excited about the growth we’re seeing, and we want to continue and maintain that growth," said Crystal Steinmetz, USD 457 director of curriculum and assessment. "I think a lot of it has to do with the last couple of years, we’ve really put a lot of professional development and resources into our math instruction and training our teachers and then putting that into the classroom. We’re starting to see the results of that in our state assessment scores … That was a big celebration for us."

During the 2017-18 school year, all USD 457 students partook in one or several Kansas state assessments. All grades took the Kansas English Language Proficiency Assessment 2 (KELPA2), which tests students’ English skills in reading, listening, speaking and writing. Fifth through eighth and 11th grades took science assessments. Sixth, eighth and 10th grades took history, government or social studies assessments. And third through eighth and 10th grades took math and ELA assessments.

The district recently received preliminary results for ELA and math. Later this summer, final results based on more recent enrollment data will be released, as well as scores for the science, history and KELPA2 tests.

The results rank student success on four levels, levels two through four marking students who are at or above academic expectations for their grade level and levels three and four marking those who are at or above expectations for college and career readiness.

While statewide 2018 results show approximately 71 percent of students in the top three levels for ELA and math assessments, USD 457 has about 60 percent in the top three levels for both assessments.

USD 457 scores about 10 percent below state averages for students in the top three levels for ELA and math, with district results showing about 60 percent of students meeting academic expectations for both assessments, and statewide results showing approximately 71 percent.

However, the district scores do show improvement in several areas. The district had a higher percentage of students score in the top three levels of the math assessment than the past three years, breaking the trend of a steady drop in scores since 2015. It also continued a three-year trend of increasing level three and four percentages in math, nearly tripling the level four percentage from 2015.

The percentage of top three level math scores also increased in almost every testing grade level, with a slight stagnation in fourth grade and a drop in eighth grade. Level three and four percentages also increased in all grades but fourth. When comparing math results from 2018 and 2017 and 2018 and 2015, the district showed higher rates of improvement than the state in most grade levels.

Changing the focus

The growth in math scores is a result of years of a paradigm shift in math instruction in the district, said USD 457 Superintendent Steve Karlin, adding a focus on conceptual understanding as well as procedural.

“Three years ago, when we looked at what we were doing with math, we knew we couldn’t keep doing that and we needed to improve. So, for three years they’ve been working really hard to see that we are seeing that kind of growth … (The scores are) really encouraging and really validates what people have been putting into it,” Karlin said.

Steinmetz said the district reapproached its math curriculum largely through professional development for teachers. It aligned with state standards of math instruction and discussed the progression of student learning and how the new curriculum would complement that.

For the past three years, USD 457 teachers have attended two-week summer math academies full of full-day training on math pedagogy, Steinmetz said. She said they have given teachers a chance to learn and break down the elements of new instruction strategies and apply them to their classrooms.

The district also has had annual summits, bringing in authors or past presidents of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics to speak and offer advice to teachers. Last year’s new schedule also offered half-days when teachers from across the district could collaborate, Steinmetz said, and district administration has kept communication avenues open to hear if teachers need help.

She said the feedback from teachers has been largely enthusiastic and positive.  

The impact of the new teaching style, which focuses on conceptual learning to help students understand the moving parts and real-world practicality of math, has been apparent beyond test scores, Karlin said. He said at a board of education meeting in January, a teacher demonstrated a standard lesson from kindergarten students from Georgia Matthews Elementary School.

Karlin said the students were incredibly attentive and mentally added single digit numbers for their teacher.

“To see that, to see kindergarteners being able to do that … that’s the kind of thing we’re talking about when we say it’s more than just procedures. It’s conceptually really understanding what’s going on and trying to address that from the time the kids start learning about math. Not just learning the shortcuts in the procedure to get the right answer, but really understand this is what mathematics is about,” Karlin said.

Despite progress, Karlin and Steinmetz agree there is room to grow. A larger percentage of students in younger grades tended to score higher on their assessments than those in older grades. More than 80 percent of USD 457 third-graders scored in the top three levels in 2018, while 40 percent or less of eighth or 10th grade students did so.

The pattern makes sense, Steinmetz said, since younger students were exposed to the new curriculum early while older students had to adjust to a fairly significant change in state standards in the middle of their education careers.

Work to do

The results for the district’s ELA tests showed less progress. District percentages in the top three levels on the ELA assessments dropped less than a percent from 2017, and level three and four percentages rose slightly. The near stagnation continued a four-year trend of dropping top three level percentages.

The 2018 ELA scores also fell across all grade levels when compared to 2015 results, but showed higher percentages in the top three levels for third, fourth and 10th grade when compared to 2017. In all grades, more than 50 percent of students scored in the top three levels in 2018.

The scores reinforce the need for efforts the district already has underway. Starting next year, the district plans to bolster ELA instruction with a district-wide literacy plan to invest in standards-aligned curriculum and instruction, community partnerships and professional development.

The literacy plan will be funded by a $3.2 million grant from the Literacy Network of Kansas (LiNK), and will be used to try to improve students’ reading and writing skills across the board. Plan initiatives include a new ELA curriculum, new ELA textbooks, focus on kindergarten readiness, instruction based on vocabulary, interaction, comprehension and evaluation and technology based training.  

Teachers also will undergo new literacy training through the plan, including conference travel and summer institutes, and the district will partner with a grant assistant that will help bring literacy engagement into the community, as well as the classroom.

Steinmetz said the district was working to help students learning English as a second language. Through the grant, teachers will receive training to best serve English language learners, including intervention and integration programs.

Karlin said current district literacy programs, such as Kansas Reading Roadmap, which offers struggling students extra literacy instruction, Literacy Integrated Family Engagement (LIFE), which promotes reading at home, and Books on the Bus (B.O.B.), which gives students access to books during the summer, also have an impact on district literacy success.

The 2018-19 literacy plan is still being finalized. Teachers will be able to offer their feedback in the fall before the plan is rolled out to students.

As for the progress that has been made already, Karlin looks to them.

“We really want to credit our teachers for their hard work,” Karlin said.

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