Denying achievement data denies the needs of our students

Published 6:15 pm Friday, June 4, 2021

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To the editor:

I watched the most recent school board meeting and am shocked that the school board chair admitted she didn’t know how the board could use achievement data — dissing it as not worthy of review at the upcoming board retreat. This comment was just after most of the board members identified the board as data-savvy and embracing data, even when negative, to drive continuous improvement. Our board is filled with data deniers.

When the board denies its data, it denies the needs of our students.

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I weep for our children because of the misinformed and misguided school board. It is of no concern that many of our students have a reading problem due to the school division not having a correct and appropriate structure to support all the students in our school division.

If the board studied its data, the members would see the reading imperative in its numbers.

For example, division-wide, almost one-quarter of our students fail the SOL reading test. The 77% pass rate of our students overall has not changed in three years. Based on the 2018-2019 SOL results, the district pass rate for white students was 87%, and for black students, 70%. This difference in results is an achievement gap of 17 points, where there should be no gap. And black students did not reach the threshold of achieving a 75% pass rate in reading. Students with disabilities achieved a 38% pass rate, 37 points below the 75% target — and this has been the same for the past three years.

Overall, about 72% of students, division-wide, passed the writing test. White students achieved an 82% pass rate, while black students achieved a 65% rate. There is a significant gap in achievement in writing between white and black students of 17 points, where there should be no gap. The achievement results for both black and white students were lower than the previous year. Students with Disabilities achieved a 30% pass rate, a decline of 5 points from the prior school year.

The school division uses an early childhood reading assessment, PALS, but you likely have not heard how students are progressing. Maybe board members would like to know there is not a year in the past four where all elementary schools administered PALS. Somebody’s children are being left out. In the 2018-2019 school year, only three elementary schools saw improvements in the percentage of students at or above the benchmark, from the beginning of the year to the end. The benchmark represents minimum expectations for students. PALS tells us that about 15% of our kindergarten students have reading needs at the beginning of the school year, and the percentage of students with reading needs increases as knowledge and skill requirements increase.

If the board doesn’t begin to regularly use its data to help carve the path for student success in reading and writing, when will it?

The question is, of course, does the school board have the will to pull itself out of its snit and get to the business of improving student achievement?

I am not the only one who weeps for our children.

Deborah Wahlstrom