Danville school officials aim initiatives at test-score drops

Danville school officials aim initiatives at test-score drops

DANVILLE — School officials said they have already launched a number of initiatives and will continue to build upon them this year to help more students meet and exceed the more rigorous state learning standards that will be put in place next year.

Recently released test scores for the district showed that fewer students met or exceeded Illinois standards for the 2012-13 school year.

Under the new "cut scores," 39 percent of students who took the Illinois Standards Achievement Test met or exceeded reading standards, down from 40 percent in 2012. And 36 percent of students met or exceeded math standards, down from 40 percent the previous year.

Results showed that 39 percent of high school juniors who took the Prairie State Achievement Exam met or exceeded reading standards, up from 31 percent in 2012, and 30 percent met or exceeded math standards, down from 32 percent the previous year.

Results also showed the high school's four-year graduation rate was 68 percent, down from 74 percent the previous year. And only 24 percent of students met or exceeded college readiness standards — something new on the report card.

Officials said they were thrilled with the reading gains at the high school, North Ridge Middle School and Edison, East Park, Northeast and Southwest elementaries and math gains at North Ridge, East Park and Liberty Elementary.

But "we're not satisfied," Superintendent Mark Denman said of the overall scores, which school board members will review at their meeting today. "We want our students to do better."

Officials weren't surprised by the drop in scores on the ISAT, given to third- through eighth-graders. They attributed it to the state board of education's decision to toughen the grading scale in math and reading to better prepare for the Common Core State Standards being adopted in 2014-15, and give a better indication of students' college and career readiness.

"They're much more rigorous standards," Associate Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat said, adding 100 percent of the test, versus the 20 percent last year, will be aligned to the new standards in the upcoming year.

To better prepare students, Desmoulin-Kherat said, the district will continue programs designed to help the district move toward achieving "world-class standards." They are also rolling out some new ones thanks to the high school's School Improvement Grant, which is providing up to $6 million in federal funding over the next three years to do some of the things staff have wanted to do for years — like provide more focused intervention to students struggling with English and math and on-going, on-site teacher training — but haven't had the money to do.

Some, like the professional-learning communities in the elementary, middle and high school levels, were introduced last year but are really taking off now, Desmoulin-Kherat said. They give teachers, who typically worked in isolation in the past, a chance to come together to discuss curriculum and instruction — specifically what they want students to learn, determine how they will know whether they're learning it, what they will do if they're not, and what they will do to challenge those who are.

Desmoulin-Kherat said all of the schools are assessing students frequently, not only at the end of a unit, to see whether they're mastering the content. Then teachers use that data to drive their instruction and catch students who are falling behind.

Brenda Yoho, director of educational support programs, said district piloted standards-based report cards for K-2 students last year, and is doing the same for students in grades 3-5 this year. The cards give students, parents and teachers a better picture of whether students are meeting learning standards in reading and math, or the knowledge and skills they're supposed to know at that grade level.

"Now we're beginning the conversations for 6-8 students," Yoho said.

Yoho said the district will introduce a writing initiative this year.

"We feel that's core to reading comprehension," she said. "We're asking our students to look at complex texts and be able to analyze them.

"In a science class, we want our students to write like a scientist. In social studies, we want them to write like a historian," she continued, adding that will show them the lesson's real-world application.

Desmoulin-Kherat said the district has also convened a math task force that will look at strategies for fine-tuning instruction and boosting scores.

At the high school, many of the initiatives are being put into place through the School Improvement Grant. They include the new 30-minute seminar class, which is giving students who fall behind in their regular math and English class a chance to relearn the material and get caught up.

Other initiatives provide more professional development for teachers, a double dose of math and English for some freshmen, career skills for some seniors, after-school tutoring and mentoring for all students, a program called Parent University to help parents get more involved in their children's education and a districtwide initiative to boost attendance.

Desmoulin-Kherat said that all schools have set specific goals in reading and math, attendance and discipline problems and are following plans to achieve them.

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