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‘Loss of learning’

FD school officials: Fewer students reaching benchmarks

-Messenger file photo by Kelby Wingert
Jeri Thompson, instructional coach at Butler Elementary School, helps kindergartner Kiyler Martin write his name during the first day of school. School officials saw fewer students reaching benmarks in testing this fall, in part due to a loss of instructional time.

Fewer students in the Fort Dodge Community School District scored at or above their grade’s benchmarks this fall, compared to the fall term of 2019.

“In general, we mirrored the rest of the state with about a 10% drop,” said Superintendent Jesse Ulrich.

Stephanie Anderson, Director of Elementary Education Services, and Kirsten Doebel, Director of Secondary Education Services, gave an update on student achievement to the Fort Dodge district’s Board of Education on Monday night.

During the update, they shared data collected from the FAST reading assessments completed in October 2020, and compared it with data collected at the same time the year prior.

In October 2019, 99% of the district’s kindergarten through sixth-grade students completed the fall assessment, with 56% scoring at or above their benchmark. In October 2020, only 88% of the district’s K-6 students completed the assessment, with 46% meeting the benchmark. The district’s goal is to have at least 95% of students complete the assessment, scoring at least 80%.

Anderson and Doebel also compared that data with data from all of Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency and from the Iowa Department of Education. Across Prairie Lakes AEA, 96% of students were assessed, scoring 58% proficiency. Across the state, 92% of the K-6 students were assessed, scoring 61% proficiency.

The seventh- through 12th-grade students also completed FAST assessments in math and reading. For seventh and eighth grades, the benchmark proficiency on each assessment decreased between 5% to 12%.

This is the first year for ninth through 12th grade completing the assessments, so the data does not show if there’s been any change in proficiency.

Anderson said that the decline in proficiency can be attributed to kids not being in school, in their classrooms, and with the 2019-2020 school year ending abruptly in March.

“We don’t say it’s a loss of student achievement,” Ulrich said. “All of these assessments are standards-based. It’s unfair when we take students out of the classroom from the middle of March. We view it more as a loss of learning opportunity, where our teachers did not have the opportunity to give direct instruction on those standards that they were assessed on.”

In general, the district’s at-home learners did not complete the fall assessments. However, due to state laws, the kindergarten through fourth-grade students did complete the assessments. The district worked with parents to have at-home learners come into the Central Administration Office to take the assessment.

“Logistically, at the time of this assessment, we had nearly 1,000 at-home learners,” Ulrich said.

So the district decided to really target the students it was required to have complete the assessment.

Because not every student in the district completed the fall FAST assessments, the data may not be showing the whole picture, Doebel said.

“It’s really hard to draw some concrete conclusions about our data and where it’s at,” she said.

The schools will do another round of FAST assessments in the spring.

Doebel also shared an update on first term failing grades at Fort Dodge Senior High.

At the high school level, there were 324 students who received at least one F during the fall trimester, with a total of 897 F grades. Of those F grades, 681 came from the online courses that at-home learners were taking.

“Would it be fair to say our at-school learners were more successful than our at-home learners?” Ulrich asked.

Doebel agreed that was a fair assessment, adding that almost 200 at-home learners were brought back to Senior High for the second trimester to do at-school learning.

Board member Bill Kent asked if the district was talking with parents of at-home learners who were struggling or failing classes during the fall term.

Anderson explained that the district talked with parents and did require students who were not successful with the at-home learning model to come back to their classroom buildings.

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