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Old 12-15-2017, 11:26 PM
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Default Iowa Report Card shows slight decreases at some Newton schools

On Monday the Newton Community School District board will meet for the last time in 2017.

Board members will discuss the recently released Iowa Report Card results. Created by the Iowa Department of Education, the report card is a measuring tool that rates the performance of each public school in the state of Iowa. Ratings for several schools in the district are down, but superintendent Bob Callaghan said the numbers aren’t cause for alarm.

The ratings are tabulated over a two-year period and based on eight different educational measures. Those measures are student proficiency rates in math and reading, student academic growth, narrowing achievement gaps among students, college and career readiness, student attendance, graduation rates and staff retention. Schools receive one of six overall ratings; Exceptional, High-Performing, Commendable, Acceptable, Needs Improvement and Priority.

Only two NCSD schools were able to be rated by the state, owing to a lack of data related to a district-wide realignment.

During the 2015-16 school year, Woodrow Wilson and Aurora Heights taught students in grades 4, 5 and 6 and now both schools are elementary schools. Berg Middle School was also part of the shift. During the 2015-16 school year they housed students in seventh and eighth grade*as well as elementary grades, now the building has students in grades 5, 6, 7 and 8. This lack of comparable data meant the state was only able to rate Newton High School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary.

The high school had previously been rated commendable, with an overall score of 67.5. That score has dropped to 62.5, giving the school a rating of acceptable. Scores also dropped at Thomas Jefferson, with the school receiving a rating of 62.6, good enough to classified as acceptable. During the previous assessment, Thomas Jefferson scored 77.7, good enough to earn a high-performing designation from the state. Callaghan said one of the reasons for the drop in ratings at Thomas Jefferson is lower scores on proficiency assessments from a score of 90.4 percent in 2016 to this year’s score of 82.7 percent, but Callaghan pointed out the students at the school are still above the state average.

“I think our teachers are working really hard,” Callaghan said. “Would we like to have 90 percent of kids pass the exam, absolutely, but it’s very difficult to compare different groups of students.”

Scores for the School Report Card were released on Monday, and Callaghan said he plans to discuss the scores with building principals. He said it’s too early to say what changes will occur, but he said the district is committed to constant improvement.

“Of course we want to do better,” Callaghan said.

While scores are lower overall for Newton schools, Callaghan said it isn’t cause for alarm. A number of different factors can affect test scores, including poverty. Socioeconomic concerns are a factor in lower test scores, Callaghan said. According to Callaghan, Newton has the highest percentage of students that receive free or reduced-price lunches in the Little Hawkeye Conference, with 55 percent of students at Thomas Jefferson qualifying for the program.

“That makes a straight comparison difficult, you’re not comparing similar demographics,” Callaghan said. “Demographics make a difference how students do on statewide assessments.”

There are bright spots in the state’s report as well, however. Callaghan noted the district’s graduation rate at Newton High School is on the rise, moving from 96 percent last year to 97 percent this year. Callaghan said the district is committed to helping students graduate by employing a variety of different resources. At Monday’s board meeting, the board will also consider an application to the School Budget Review Committee, the SBRC, to modify the supplemental spending for dropout prevention. The move, which allows the district to charge back some of the costs they’ve incurred for dropout prevention programs, is similar to programs that allow the district to tax to cover the cost of special education programs. Brett Miller, principal at West Academy said the district offers a number of services to keep students from dropping out of school.

Teachers are on the lookout for several different indicators that a student may be at risk of dropping out, Miller said. The most common indicator is poor attendance, a student who’s struggling in the classroom or having problems at home.

“That’s going to tell us if they’re on track to graduate,” Miller said.

Students who are struggling have a variety of options, starting with online classes and credit recovery programs, which help students make up missed work to reverse a failing grade. Students also have access to the success center, a type of study hall where they work with a teacher on staff. The goal of the program is to keep them connected to the school, Miller said.

“They need that connection, they need to identify there’s a person at school that connects with them,” Miller said.

The supplemental amount for dropout prevention covers the cost of these programs, as well as the salaries of the six teachers that work at West Academy, the district’s alternative school. In meeting with guidance counselors and principals at Newton High School, Miller works to identify students who would benefit from attending the alternative high school. Enrollment at West is around 75 students, with Miller giving preference to juniors and seniors. Keeping the doors open at West gives kids a path to graduation who might otherwise have dropped out, Miller said.

“You want to do everything proactively, but you don’t have the alternative setting like we do you lose a lot of kids,” Miller said. “You’ve got to have them in class, but you’ve got to keep them engaged too.”

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or

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