Springfield student ELA and math proficiency

Springfield School District Superintendent Zach McLaughlin (left) and Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Director David Cohn field questions from the school board about district test data and strategies the district wants to implement next school year.

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — In the fifth year of Smarter Balance testing, the Springfield School District reports notable student growth in language arts proficiency from last year, though less improvement in math.

At Monday’s school board meeting, Curriculum Director David Cohn and school principals presented the district’s 2019 Smarter Balance test scores in English language arts and math for students between third and ninth grades, which are the grades required by law to take the Smarter Balance Assessment. This is the district’s fifth year of administering the Smarter Balance test to third through eighth graders, but only the second year giving it to ninth.

Cohn told the school board that the purpose in discussing the scores is less to compare Springfield’s scores to the state average, which the state has not yet published, but to measure growth and scores with goals created at the beginning of the school year.

Prior to the 2018-19 school year, each school principal set goals for overall student proficiency in math and language arts and school climate. School climate refers to the school’s overall environment in respects to learning, student sense of belonging, strength of community and similar qualities. The district found from student surveys during 2017-18 that factors in the learning environment, such as peer behavior, have a significant impact on the ability to learn.

Visible one-year growth in language arts proficiency

This year the district posted its highest combined proficiency rate in language arts since Smarter Balance testing began, and the highest language arts scores so far in grades four through five and seven through nine, Cohn told the board.

Though Springfield’s combined language arts proficiency of 41% this year still falls below the state average, which is projected to remain in the 50% range, Springfield’s scores this year are five percent higher than 2017-18. Language arts proficiency among fourth and ninth grade students was 10% higher than their prior year.

District to study math learning trends

The district’s five-year testing in math proficiency is “a little bit all over the math,” Cohn told the board.

Cohn said it was difficult to present growth data in math like he did for language arts because the test score comparisons vary so greatly between the grades. Most student cohorts between fourth and ninth grade demonstrated proficiency rates similar to their previous rate. The student proficiency rate dropped significantly among fifth grade students from their previous year, from 29% math proficiency in fourth grade to 13% in fifth. However, as the five-year chart illustrated many student cohorts experienced similar dips and spikes in math scores from grade-to-grade. Cohn also pointed out that the ninth grade cohort, who have only 17 percent testing proficient in math, only began taking the Smarter Balance assessment in the eighth grade.

However, the math proficiency scores are not where the district wants to be, Cohn said.

“I can sit here and say my theories for what’s going on in math,” Cohn said. “But I feel like we need to involve all our teachers and administrators in that conversation. The more teachers and specialists we have giving input to that question, the more sufficient our response will be.

Cohn said he just submitted for a state grant to form a K-12 Innovation Team to identify root causes and develop ideas to test.

The district’s combined proficiency rate in math for third to ninth grade students this year was 23% this year and posted a similar number last year. The state average of combined math proficiency last year was 42%.

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