Kalispell schools zero in on raising math scores

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Kalispell Public Schools are focused on increasing math achievement among elementary students within the next three to five years by putting in place a strategic plan, starting with professional development.

The initiative stems from a review of grades at the classroom level and standardized test result trends, namely the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which is aligned to Montana Common Core standards and tests third- through eighth-graders in math and English language arts.

Although the trend is that the school district’s third- through eighth-graders outperform the state in math achievement, according to the 2017-18 Smarter Balanced Assessment results, 47.7 percent of those students are not proficient, leading the district to focus on closing the gap.

“We are not satisfied with the scores. We want to do better,” said Kalispell Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Callie Langohr. “We want students to have a better understanding of mathematics, be more accurate and more efficient.”

“What we have done as a school district this year is we have said it’s been awhile since we’ve put our energies behind math,” Langohr said. “We have said, and the school board has said, one of our high priorities this year is to increase math achievement for our elementary students and we have come up with a strategic plan, we are thinking, realistically, will take us three years to see dramatic results and increases in our scores.”

When looking at any test data, Langohr said the question that should always be addressed is, “What do you do with the results?

“And sometimes we don’t share that story well enough,”she said. “We’ll share the numbers. We’ll show the bar graphs, but we don’t take the time to say, ‘OK, here’s what we’re doing with the information that was given to us.’”

This year, the district has implemented a professional development plan that includes math supports, instructional coaching and use of AIMSWeb to monitor students’ progress throughout the year. AIMSweb is a brand of test administration and scoring software.

“The first thing is we’re going to provide three different types of math support for our teachers and we are going to use a strategies coach, instructional coaches and a ‘Go Math’ [curriculum] coach,” Langohr said. It’s using a “train the trainers” approach so that a broad range of people from teachers to administrators will have information to share, she explained.

AIMSweb comes into play to ensure the strategies are impacting student learning. Langohr said the software will help teachers quickly identify an individual’s strengths and deficiencies.

“What it does is it adds to a level where we’re able to do a better job of accurately determining where a student is, and if they’re progressing, and we can adjust our instruction accordingly,” she said.

It will also save time. Students take the computerized assessments and results are available within minutes. In a class of 24, for example, this will save hours, according to Langohr.

Administrators understand math scores won’t swing upward overnight.

“We understand, to see dramatic shifts, it may take three years to get there; that’s why we’re saying it’s a three- to five-year strategic plan,” Langohr said.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment designates students as “advanced,” “proficient,” “nearing proficient,” or “novice” in their understanding of a subject, based on their score.

“You want your students to be at minimum, proficient, and super excited when they hit the advanced percent,” she said.

According to a composite of the district’s 2017-18 math scores for grades three through eight, 24.2 percent of students were advanced and 28.1 percent proficient, surpassing statewide levels at 16.8 percent and 24.7 percent, respectively. The portion of the district’s student population nearing proficiency encompassed 28.9 percent and 18.8 percent were considered at the novice level. Statewide, 30.3 percent of Montana third- through eighth-graders were nearing proficiency and 28.2 percent at the novice level.

“We will see a significant difference,” Langohr said. “It will not happen overnight. We want to have a strong start and then continue moving toward getting those scores up. We’ll see another strategic plan for year two. This is just year one.”

When it comes to language arts, students excel with 70.4 percent of test takers proficient or advanced based on the district composite, once again outperforming the state’s 50.5 percent.

As far as individual schools, Langohr highlighted Kalispell Middle School as having the highest percentages of advanced and proficient students in the state. In math, 54.2 percent of students were proficient or advanced. In English language arts, 75.6 percent were proficient or advanced.

The next testing window for schools to give the Smarter Balanced Assessment is March through May.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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