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WATERLOO — Fifteen schools in the Cedar Valley’s two largest districts have been identified for lagging student performance under new statewide accountability standards.

The Iowa Department of Education released the information Tuesday in online reports developed under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The federal legislation replaces the No Child Left Behind Act. Iowa received approval of its plan to implement the law in May.

Schools are scored using the accountability standards in the Iowa School Performance Profiles. The system measures schools looking at overall performance and individual student subgroups — based on ethnicity, disability, income level or English learner status — according to Department of Education officials who briefed reporters in advance of the release.

About 26 percent of Iowa’s 1,302 public schools don’t meet the performance threshold set out by the state. That includes 34 identified for comprehensive support and improvement either because of a graduation rate below 67.1 percent or an overall score falling within the lowest 5 percent of Iowa schools receiving federal Title I funding. Another 307 are identified for targeted support and improvement because the score of one or more subgroups is among the lowest 5 percent of the state’s schools.

Of 35 Northeast Iowa districts examined by The Courier, the online reports showed 13 had identified schools. Data on any Iowa public school can be found at iaschoolperformance.gov.

Administrators in the Waterloo and Cedar Falls community schools, who were to receive training in the new system Tuesday, said they were still learning about the approach to helping districts raise achievement.

“Right now, we have more questions than answers,” said Jane Lindaman, Waterloo Schools’ superintendent. The district had 11 of its 18 schools identified — including three as comprehensive.

Comprehensive schools include Fred Becker Elementary, George Washington Carver Academy and Expo Alternative Learning Center. Targeted schools include Highland, Irving, Kittrell, Lincoln, Lowell and Poyner elementaries; and Bunger and Central middle schools.

In Cedar Falls, where four of nine schools were identified as targeted, Superintendent Andy Pattee noted they were also hoping to learn more in the training. Identified schools include Lincoln and North Cedar elementaries; Holmes Junior High; and Cedar Falls High. Cedar Falls Schools has 10 buildings, but one opened last fall so it isn’t assessed this year in the new system.

“What we’re excited about is to try and dig into the data,” said Pattee, so officials can “find out what’s best for all students.”

Lindaman believes the new system will be an improvement over No Child Left Behind, which she said addressed student achievement with more of a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Under Every Student Succeeds, “states were able to personalize” their accountability plans, said Lindaman. “This is more support-based, and we welcome that support.”

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Identified schools receive support from the state and area education agencies to develop improvement plans using evidence-based strategies.

Jay Pennington, of the Iowa Department of Education, said Title I funds will be available for the improvement process — $2 million each for AEAs, comprehensive schools and targeted schools. “Once a school is identified as targeted or comprehensive, it’s a three-year process,” he said.

No prescribed school intervention models have been laid out like in No Child Left Behind — which required measures such as removing a principal or half of the teaching staff.

Iowa’s approach strives to “strike the right balance of decision-making” with local input in creating plans, said Ryan Wise, Department of Education director.

It also emphasizes student growth on the statewide tests given in grades three through 11 each year. For last year, that was the Iowa Assessments. New tests will be administered this spring. Growth measurements account for 47 percent of the score at the elementary and middle school levels and 40 percent at the high school level.

Other factors related to the tests are participation; academic achievement, based on student proficiency levels and the average scale score; and progress in achieving English language proficiency. The graduation rate and “conditions for learning” are also components of the score. Conditions for learning is an indicator of school climate drawn from student surveys of engagement, safety and overall learning environment.

Lindaman is concerned about rolling out the new approach this school year.

“The timing of the legislative changes and the identification process going forward is certainly unfortunate, because don’t have a new test yet,” she said. The test current results are based on is not aligned to what districts are required to teach by the state.

“Until we get a new assessment, we’ll certainly take these scores with a grain of salt.”

It wasn’t a surprise for Lindaman to see one school identified — Expo Alternative Learning Center — since it has a low graduation rate. She was quick to add that the high school for students who struggle in the regular academic setting has made progress during the past five years.

“We will also note that Expo has increased its graduation rate by 25 percent over the years,” she said. “It’s there to serve students who need a little bit of a different pathway.”

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Courier

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