OGDEN — Representatives with the Ogden and Weber School Districts say the state’s new public school accountability report is much better at pointing out areas where schools excel and where they need to improve.
The interactive report, released Jan. 3, details numerous indicators of student success including proficiency and growth in English, math and science, college readiness, ACT test scores and the makeup of the student body. Districts could also submit detailed information about individualized programs and other things that factor into a schools success.
Previously, schools were assigned letter grades based on test scores and other accountability measures. Assigning letter grades was put on hold this year.
Weber School District Curriculum Director Sheri Heiter said in past years, people would stop reading once they saw the letter grade. Now users can look at test scores and other information with context.
“Schools are more than just assessment data,” she said.
The report is based on test scores from the 2017-18 school year on assessments including Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence (SAGE), RISE, WIDA and Utah Aspire Plus. The graduation rates included are for the 2016-17 school year.
“It is my hope that parents will take the opportunity this year to look more deeply into their child’s school performance,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson said in a statement. “The comprehensive data that will now be publicly available offers a clearer picture of school progress and achievement in core subjects and advanced coursework.”
Ogden School District
Secondary students in the Ogden School District saw proficiency rates in language arts, math and science lower than the state average. The districtwide average proficiency rate for secondary students was 32 percent for English language arts, 19 percent in math and 21 percent in science. All rates were lower than the state average by 22 percentage points or less.
The average proficiency rates for elementary rates also fell below the state average by 16 percentage points or less in all three subject areas.
Superintendent Rich Nye said he knows the report shows there are areas where schools in the district could improve. They’ve adopted new English language arts curriculum for the 2018-19 school year and have a system in place to monitor each student’s social and emotional learning (SEL).
“From academics to social emotional learning to behavior and attendance, if we see students slipping, the red flags go up,” he said.
Growth is also included in the report to show how much improvement students make in each subject. Ogden School District’s secondary students had a growth rate of 37 percent in language arts, only 1 percentage point below the state average. The growth rate in math was 31 percent and the growth rate in science was 33 percent, both of which were a few percentage points below the state average.
Elementary school students had a 40 percent growth rate in language arts, a 34 percent growth rate in math and a 44 percent growth rate in science, all of which are below the state average by 10 percentage points or less.
An average of 81 percent of Ogden School District students completed college readiness coursework as well, while the state average was only 61 percent. This includes students who earned a C or better in AP, concurrent enrollment or international baccalaureate courses as well as those who finished a career and technical education pathway.
“Graduation is an important indicator but it’s surface level,” Nye said. “We want our students to graduate and be ready for what’s next.”
The district had an average four-year graduation rate of 75 percent, 11 percentage points less than the state average for 2016-17. Nye said the district is aiming for an 88 percent graduation rate by 2022.
The report also gives schools partial credit for students who graduate within five years.
“I think that’s something Ogden is proud about,” District spokesman Jer Bates said. “We don’t give up on students. If they didn’t graduate in the spring with their cohort we don’t say, ‘Too bad.’ We’re still working with those students and trying to make sure they complete that graduation.”
The Ogden School District had 39 percent of its students earn an 18 or higher on the ACT. Comparatively, the state average is 63 percent. The test is given to all 11th grade students statewide.
Nye said now more than ever the Ogden School District is using data to help its students succeed.
“Data is only as important as what it represents,” he said. “Ours represents children and therefore it’s priceless.”
One area where most of Utah saw particularly low scores was in English Language Learner proficiency. Ogden School District’s secondary students had an average of 34 percent of these students make adequate progress while only 3 percent reached proficiency.
Statewide only 2 percent reached proficiency. Elementary student scores were only slightly better.
Nye said the number of students showing adequate process is far higher because that counts students who are moving through their ELL program successfully. That doesn’t always mean the student can pass the test showing they’re totally proficient.
In an effort to better help ELL students, the district has a newcomer program designed to help in ELL acquisition as well as instruction worked into day to day classes. All teachers must get their English as a Second Language endorsement within three years of being hired in the district.
Bates said the most common second language among students is Spanish, though they do have 30 different languages spoken total.
“It’s not an excuse, it’s just the reality of how difficult the challenge is,” he said.
The Ogden School District is actually one of the most diverse in the state; 58 percent of the student body is made up of students of color.
“We celebrate diversity,” Nye said. “We feel it is a unique strength that isn’t realized as much in other parts of Utah.”
But the district’s teachers and staff don’t reflect the diversity of the student body: 83 percent of all district employees are caucasian according to data provided by the district. When paired down to just teachers and teacher specialists, that number goes up to 92 percent, excluding people who didn’t list their race.
Some research suggests students do better over time when they have teachers who look like them. For instance, a 2017 study published by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics found black children with a black teacher from third to fifth grade were more likely to go to college.
Nye said he’s pushing to hire more teachers of color each year.
“There is a body of literature that suggests children tend to, given the demographics, respond to or have greater connections if they have teachers who share some cultural heritage with them,” he said.
Weber School District
For the Weber School District, the average proficiency rate for secondary students was 33 percent in language arts, 27 percent in math and 34 percent in science. All rates were below the state average by 11 percentage points or less.
Elementary school students had higher proficiency scores but still fell below the state averages in all subject areas by 9 percentage points or less.
Heiter, the district’s curriculum director, said they’re working to improve proficiency rates, particularly in language arts. New curriculum was implemented last year for secondary students.
Teachers can participate in weekly online learning sessions and take up to four days each school year for professional development events, one of which took place districtwide Friday.
Heiter said teachers learn strategies for how to help students learn and grow. Elementary school teachers, for example, are focusing on how to improve math and language arts instruction.
“There’s always room for growth and you’re never done,” Heiter said. “There’s always improvement to be made.”
Like the Ogden School District, Weber’s growth scores also fell below the state average. Secondary students had a 32 percent proficiency rate in language arts and math and a 34 percent proficiency rate in science. The state average was 38, 39 and 40 percent respectively.
Elementary school student growth rates were also all below the state average by 7 percentage points or less.
Even when scores aren’t high, Heiter said the district doesn’t use them in a punitive way.
“We use it as more of a guide rather an an indictment of poor performance,” she said. “We look at it and think ‘Ok, great info, but what could we devote some resources and time toward?’”
Districtwide, 40 percent of secondary ELL students made adequate progress while 44 percent of elementary students did. But just like the Ogden and the state as a whole, far fewer students reached proficiency; 6 percent of secondary students and 5 percent of elementary students were considered proficient.
Heiter said this is because it typically takes a student several years to be able to pass the test the state uses to gauge English proficiency, WIDA.
She said students rarely reach that level in elementary school and by the time they’re older the students are less invested in the test. Another issue they face is older students who don’t speak any English at all.
“We have students entering 11th grade from Congo who speak absolutely no English and have never been in a traditional classroom, so the odds we’re going to be able to take them from no language to proficient in the two years we have them are pretty slim,” Heiter said.
And speaking of secondary students, the districtwide graduation rate for 2016-17 was 82 percent, only a little less than the state average. Also, 56 percent got an 18 or higher on the ACT, 7 percentage points lower than the state average.
Heiter said only about half of their students do well on the test because they have to test every student. Prior to that only students who knew they wanted to go to college took it and paid for it out of pocket.
“Now we’re paying for it and you know, there’s not always the incentive,” Heiter said.
Testing every 11th grade student is still a good move though, Heiter said, because some perform better than expected and reconsider their career path.
As districts around the state move forward with the data they have, Heiter said this year’s iteration of the report without letter grades is a good thing.
“Now people are digging into the data with much more intensity than they have in the past and really trying to look at the individual indicators,” she said.