Grinnell MS math “in need of assistance”

Grinnell-Newburg Middle School was deemed a school “in need of assistance” under math proficiency in Iowa’s 2013 State Report Card for No Child Left Behind, which was released a few weeks ago.

This is the school’s fourth year in this category. However, the middle school’s reading proficiency was removed from the “in need of assistance” category this year.

The state report designates the school’s general proficiency in math and reading and for each of the school’s subgroups. Subgroups are designated as certain ethnicities, genders, students with disabilities and others. If a school does not meet the state’s Adequate Yearly Progress participation goals or state Annual Measurable Objectives in either the “all students” group or any of the subgroups for two consecutive years, it is designated as a “school in need of assistance” (SINA).

According to Grinnell-Newburg District Director of Curriculum and Instruction Chris Coffman, the middle school met the expectations under the “all students” group, but did not meet the expectations for two subgroups: special education students under an individualized education program and low socioeconomic status students (students on free or reduced lunch). About 40 percent of Grinnell-Newburg middle school students are on a free or reduced lunch.

Principal Sara Hegg-Dunne noted that the school was making an effort to improve its math proficiency, mentioning the school’s new School Achievement Team as one of the efforts.

“We have a team of teachers that we put together in September. We’ve met one time, we spent the day with some AEA [Area Education Agency] consultants … We’re looking at data, talking about inventions that are going on and how things are doing,” Hegg-Dunne said. The School Achivement Team is made up of multiple educational professionals, including three math teachers, a special education teacher, a counselor and Hegg-Dunne herself.

Hegg-Dunne also mentioned that the middle school’s math teachers were undertaking efforts to improve their curriculum and meet educational standards set by the Iowa Department of Education, known as the Iowa Core Standards. 

“My sixth, seventh, eighth math teachers, all three of them are taking special development [courses] with the AEA on how to implement core in the classroom well,” Hegg-Dunne said.

Coffman and Grinnell-Newburg Superintendent Todd Abrahamson both highlighted the improvements that the middle school made to push itself out of the SINA ranking for reading proficiency, noting that similar steps could be taken to improve the school’s math scores.

“One [technique] was goal setting. This might not sound like it … but it’s one of the factors that determine change and positive change in education. Students sit down and they look at their scores and they look at what a typical growth should be for themselves or a student at that score, and then they start setting goals. They meet with a teacher and look at what is realistic and what is not,” Coffman explained.

“I think we need to celebrate where the middle worked real hard … we’re off the SINA … for reading. And now we’re focusing in on the math initiative,” Abrahamson added.

Apart from improving reading curriculums in the middle school, the district is also putting in place reading campaigns for lower grades, such as the new Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. With the improved reading proficiency and new reading campaigns in place, these changes can potentially positively impact the reading scores of the low socioeconomic status subgroup.

“By age three, children from low-income families have heard 30 million fewer words than their middle-income peers, and that’s a big number that jumps out,” Abrahamson said.

Regardless of test scores, the district is making large changes to ensure its progress.

“The test scores are important but we just want to make sure we’re doing the best practice we can; the test will take care of itself,” Coffman said.