WATERLOO — Eleven of Waterloo Community Schools’ 18 buildings are showing improvement on a statewide ratings system.
Schools are tracked on seven measures: participation in assessments, academic proficiency, student growth, progress in achieving English language proficiency, academic achievement, conditions for learning and graduation rate. Based on that performance, the Iowa Department of Education gives one of six ratings from priority to exceptional. Rating assignments are determined by where each school falls on a 100-point scale.
The ratings, once part of the Iowa School Report Card, were updated earlier this year to add 2018 data. They are now included with the state’s accountability standards in the online Iowa School Performance Profiles, which can be found for any public school at iaschoolperformance.gov. The measures used in the ratings are similar but not identical to what they were in the past.
Superintendent Jane Lindaman believes the method of calculating the ratings “is becoming more comprehensive,” providing a more accurate picture of achievement in Waterloo Schools. “The other side is we are just doing better,” she said, noting literacy and math achievement have increased on statewide assessments.
Seven district schools moved into the top half of the ratings categories, where there were none for the prior year. Highland, Kingsley and Orange elementary schools are in the high performing category. East and West high schools, Hoover Middle School, and Lou Henry Elementary are in the commendable category. Highland, Kingsley, Orange and West moved up two categories.
Kittrell, Lincoln and Lowell elementaries moved into the acceptable category while Dr. Walter Cunningham School for Excellence moved into the needs improvement category. Fred Becker Elementary School and George Washington Carver Academy dropped a category to priority. Ratings of the five other district schools remained unchanged.
Cedar Falls ratings
Cedar Falls Community Schools also saw movement on the ratings, with three buildings going up and three going down. Holmes Junior High moved into the high performing category while Cedar Heights and North Cedar elementaries moved into the commendable category. Southdale Elementary dropped into the commendable category while Lincoln Elementary and Cedar Falls High School dropped into the acceptable category.
Hansen Elementary remained in the high performing category while Bess Streeter Aldrich Elementary School wasn’t included because it opened last fall.
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“All of our schools were acceptable or above,” said Pam Zeigler, associate superintendent for instruction and learning. She noted that additions made to the performance profiles helped the state to meet requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The six school ratings categories were required under a 2013 state law.
“Overall, the majority of our schools are above the state average,” said Zeigler, on achievement measures. “The areas where we want to see some growth are our special education populations.”
As district administrators dug into the ratings and other information on the performance profiles, they have been looking at ways to make improvements. Zeigler said that has meant asking, “What can we continuously do to get better as a district?”
In Waterloo Schools, early literacy for preschool through third grade students is one area where administrators say they have seen a lot of improvement. District data reflects “the highest rates of growth of any urban district” across the state on early literacy, said Lindaman. That can be seen on FAST, a reading assessment that has been given three times a year for the past five years to students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
“We believe this year for the first time since FAST testing started, we will be at the state average,” said Stephanie Mohorne, associate superintendent for educational services.
Administrators have ensured consistent methods of providing literacy instruction and interventions across the district. Among the ways that’s done is providing the same curricular tools at every school, including software programs to aid in student learning.
Mohorne pointed to Highland’s status in the ratings as high performing. It is a high poverty school where student ethnicities are equally divided between white, Hispanic and black. She noted that under the former federal education accountability law, it’s predecessor McKinstry Elementary was a “school in need of assistance” 15 years ago.
“It proves that all kids at all schools can perform,” said Lindaman. “They’re just an excellent example of how strategic planning and consistent implementation can pay off.”