Tests show new math is not where it’s at

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Student test scores have been the main focus at several meetings for students enrolled in the Pierce Joint Union School District. The first meeting, held Feb. 6, in Arbuckle allowed school officials to discuss the new California Dashboard website, which showcases school and district progress. The meeting was to involve any ‘stakeholder’ into the issues and plans that are being made to address issues with the school’s report card. The meeting was a chance for PJUSD Superintendent, Carol Geyer, to go over the new California Dashboard Data. The attendance was made up of concernedparents. 

These new assessments are available online to anyone at caschooldashboard.org. The school’s information, including student demographics are disclosed. The main feature is a dashboard containing color coded gauges that report two years worth of specific criteria such as absenteeism, suspension rates, English language arts, and mathematics.

At the Dashboard meeting, parents were encouraged to look at the progress specifically of the Pierce schools and were given a copy of the LCAP action plan. The plan is written every three years with annual reviews to change or add to the plan. Although Pierce has made many improvements, to continue the momentum, Superintendent Geyer encouraged those in attendance to offer their ideas for solutions to weaker areas indicated on the dashboard.

Geyer recognized the road ahead, “We have things to do, but let’s get it out there and let’s try to problem solve and see what we can do to make it better.” 

Geyer asks parents to check out the website, “look at the data, and if it raises questions or concerns, come to meetings, ask questions, get involved… go and talk to your child’s teacher.” Additionally, she encourages outside-of-the-box thinking and invites solutions.

Then at the Feb. 22 meeting, the Board of Trustees had a decent turnout from the public. Everyone was accommodated in the spacious auditorium at Grand Island Elementary School, in Grimes. Although the meetings deal with various legal matters, the board consisted of people concerned with what is best for all students. The bulk of conversation was about the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) National Benchmark Assessment test scores that gave an idea of what to expect from students on the standard state test. At the board meeting, the floor was opened to hear from the public. 

Lorraine Marsh had brought up issues regarding low math test scores and the board discussed options of how to improve those scores. 

The NWEA Benchmark Study is designed to be an assessment solution to measure what students know, and informs what they’re ready to learn next. Adjusting to each student’s responses, the study created a personalized assessment that accurately measures performance; accurate in the sense that student’s test scores on the NWEA were only off by a small percentage from the standardized testing. The NWEA is given three times a year to assess where the students are starting off at, the midway progress, and at the end of the school year to collect data of the overall year.

The scores show areas for improvement. 

Summer Shadley, principal of Arbuckle and Grand Island Elementary schools, gave a snapshot of the overall progress of the students at the meeting. 

Shadley said the district’s math program is suffering but are comparable to published statewide scores. 

“When you’re looking at, compared to the state, and our math program, we’ve got a lot of work to do but we’ve got a lot of work to do across the state,” Shadley stated.

Monday, March 13, was the district’s meeting to respond to address the math concerns. It was the first meeting for the PJUSD Math Committee. The committee consisted of a diverse group of people with different roles: Geyer, board members, teachers, parents, and sophomore Hudson Bair, 15, who spoke to the group from his perspective as a student.

“Third grade we had 61 percent of our students proficient; fourth grade: 33 percent; fifth grade: 29 percent; sixth grade: 25 percent; seventh grade: 26 percent; eighth grade: 22 percent; 11th grade: 15 percent. We’re underperforming,” Geyer said. 

She also asked of the committee, “So there’s different ranges of that. We go from the high of our third grade last year (that) was 61 percent to our low with 11th grade at 15 percent, but we’re in all of those different ranges and so why as a district, why are we struggling so much?”

Individually, attendees were asked to write down issues they felt were the root cause of underperformance in math. Then in small groups those issues were compiled. 

A few people remarked that many of those root causes were repeated over and over. Geyer pointed out that this meeting was to get a bigger picture and that future meetings will be to get in closer to the individual problems. 

“We did the snorkeling, (now) we need to become scuba divers and get down into the rocks in the deep,” she said. “How would you like to do that?”

A conversation ensued with many problems and ideas to fix them. Speaking as a parent, Samantha Vann suggested, “motivation begins at the beginning. You don’t see elementary school parents here; we have a great site council, (and) we have very involved parents. But I think those parents don’t necessarily see math is a problem yet because their children that are in first or second grade are loving math. But overall, as a site, that’s not our entire demographic and we have to start the motivation and the understanding from the beginning so that we’re not in the situation that we’re at right now.”

Marsh’s concern is for the students doing well and not advancing enough due to the low scores. “One thing that really concerns me about what I hear right now, is your concern for the kids who struggle – they are members of the community and they deserve an education, but there are also kids who can do well and would like to have a STEM degree,” Marsh said. 

Bair was thanked for his courage for his contribution that some of the problem stems from people that are too advanced for the math.

“What I think would be useful is sometime, like in eighth period maybe, it doesn’t have to be that long, just sometimes where kids can go across the campus and ask – whatever teachers they need to – questions on math or English, whatever subjects they’re struggling with. Bair said, “I think that would start to bring up our student grades and test scores overall.”

Geyer said that with every student who comes through their doors, the expectation is that they are going to be taught the standard.

There are many aspects to consider when tackling the issue of how to help math scores to improve. The certainty, the committee said, is that the combined efforts of everyone is needed to see students be successful, because as of fall semester 2019, college courses are doing away with remedial English and math. 

The next PJUSD Math Committee meeting will be April 4 at 4:30 PM. ■