A new achievement report was the topic of much discussion at Monday night’s Columbia Public Schools board meeting.
The report, presented by the District Support Team, showed declining reading proficiency rates in CPS middle schools over the past three years. According to the report, 72.7 percent of sixth through eighth graders were reading proficient when tested in last spring compared to 75.7 percent in 2014 and 84.7 percent in 2013.
The report was based off of the STAR assessment, an online test that the District uses as a benchmark for math and reading proficiency. Students take the tests three times a year: in the fall, winter and spring.
Two CPS middle school reading specialists spoke during public comment to share their feelings that the decline in reading proficiency in the middle schools can be at least partially be explained by the loss of 45 minutes of dedicated reading instruction three years ago.
“If we took away 45 minutes of science, kids’ science knowledge is going to go down, and the same thing happens to reading,” said Smithton Middle School reading specialist Debra Peters.
Previously, middle school students had 45 minutes of reading and 45 minutes of writing instruction, but the reading instruction was removed and spread around to the other core classes when the District transitioned to sixth through eighth grade middle schools starting with the 2013-2014 school year.
Representatives from the District Support Team spent more than 30 minutes presenting and answering questions from the Board about the achievement report and the data-driven process that the team uses to chart student achievement across the District.
“Data must be useful and relevant for educators, so it becomes the catalyst for improved instruction,” said deputy superintendent Dana Clippard. “Educators must have access to data that is timely, so teachers can quickly identify students who need additional time and support.”
Clippard, assistant superintendent for elementary education Ben Tilley and director of school improvement Shelli Adams said the goal of the District Support Team is to provide a space where data from students, teachers and administrators can be shared between buildings and schools from across the District so that each school can put the data to use helping its students.
Oakland Middle School reading specialist Danielle Johnson, the other middle school reading specialist to participate in public comment, understands the Board’s potential reticence to instituting a sweeping change in response to declining reading proficiency rates.
“It’s hard to pin point,” Johnson said of the cause of the decline. “It’s hard ever to say this is the cause of this.”
She would like to see individual schools given the chance to experiment with reinstituting dedicated reading instruction.
“Let’s throw it back in on one team and see if there’s a difference before we change the way the whole District does things,” she said.