Writing Exercise

Wanda Christopher helps Robert Navarro with a writing exercise in a Kinder Camp classroom at Thomas Elementary School in this July 2014 file photo.

Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun

 

Flagstaff Unified School District teachers and principals have been working on a plan to improve AzMERIT scores at the district’s schools for the past year, said Robert Hagstrom, the director of research and assessment for Flagstaff Unified School District. And they’re about to release those plans to the public at the Sept. 26 FUSD Governing Board meeting. The district’s AzMERIT scores will also be discussed at the meeting.

Each school’s teachers and principals were asked earlier this year to take information from last year’s AzMERIT scores, student grades and other metrics and come up with a comprehensive plan to improve the curriculum and how students are taught at each school, Hagstrom said. Each plan, once it is finalized, will be posted to each school’s webpage.

AzMERIT isn’t the best measurement of a student’s overall knowledge and parents and the public need to take that into account when looking at the scores, he said. It only tests two subjects. It doesn’t take in all the variables in the curriculum, the school community, student grades, the way a class is taught, etc. It’s hard to tell exactly why the number of students passing English or math may be up in one school or grade level and down in another.

“It’s a shot in the dark,” he said. “I’m not trying to make excuses, but it’s just one source of information.”

All of the other data that the district has collected on student progress over the years has shown that FUSD students are doing “pretty darn well, but we still want them to do better,” he said. He said a study of the last 10 years of data from both AIMS and AzMERIT shows a gradual improvement in both FUSD student and Arizona student scores.

“We’ve had an intervention framework for students in the schools for several years,” he said. Students who need extra help learning a concept are first given extra help in the classroom. If they need additional help a more focused approach is taken. Students who need additional help, usually ones with special needs, are given more one-on-one instruction outside of the classroom during the school day.

Hagstrom said the intervention process is solid but each school is different -- they have different teachers, principals and students who all learn and teach in different ways. The “data story” plans principals and teachers are working on for each school are designed to complement the current intervention system and tweak it to improve education at each school for all of the school’s students.

“They’re targeting the weakest parts of the all the data that we’ve collected and creating an improvement plan,” he said.

That improvement plan includes a districtwide quarterly assessment that will test first-grade through eighth-grade students before, during and just before the end of the school year, Hagstrom said. The tests are designed to be completed in a day and to let teachers know where students are on specific subjects and get students timely, additional help.

Hagstrom is also worried about the letter grades the state is due to release in early October for schools. The committee in charge of creating the formulas for the letter grades has been having trouble figuring out the best way to calculate the grades. The grades are supposed to be based on the improvement of individual students and the improvement of each school. The committee is having a hard time balancing the ability of school to earn an A without making it too easy. The formulas and the information used in them to calculate the grades has become so complex that Hagstrom worries that parents, teachers and principals may have a hard time understanding how the grades were arrived at.

“I’m having a hard time figuring out how they’re calculating it and I’ve dealt with these kinds of calculations for years,” he said. If parents, teachers and principals can’t easily figure out how the grades are calculated it will difficult to figure out where changes in curriculum and teaching need to be made to make improvements.

If parents really want to know how their children are doing, they should speak directly with their child’s teachers, Hagstrom said. Teachers are always the best source of information on how a student is doing.

 

The reporter can be reached at sadams@azdailysun.com or (928)556-2253.

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Suzanne writes about education and business. She covers the local school district, charter schools and Northern Arizona University. She also writes the Sunday business features.

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