RSF students show growth in state test scores, teachers utilizing new diagnostic tool iReady

Rancho Santa Fe School District buildings.

The Rancho Santa Fe School District board reviewed its top-performing Smarter Balanced Assessment state standardized test scores at its Sept. 12 meeting. The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASSP) tests are given to third through eighth grade students in the spring in the subjects of English language arts (ELA) and math.

In elementary school English language arts, 91 percent of students met achievement standards with close to 67 percent exceeding the standards. The elementary school has continued to show improvement in ELA over the last three years, improving by four percentage points over last year.

“We want to be focused on kids exceeding the standards,” said RSF School District Superintendent Donna Tripi.

Tripi attributed the elementary school students’ success in ELA on small group instruction, lots of exposure to nonfiction and informational texts, a focus on listening skills, fostering a “fire” for reading and more writing about reading at all grade levels.

In math, 86 percent of elementary school students met or exceeded the standards.

“We know that math is an area that we needed to focus our attention on because our curriculum and instruction wasn’t consistent across grade levels,” Tripi said, noting this year’s new math curriculum adoption. “Next year I would expect that we would do better.”

Tripi said so far in the new school year, teachers are loving the new math curriculum and are excited to teach it.

In the middle school, 89 percent met or exceeded the standards in ELA, up six percentage points from last year, with 46 percent exceeding the standards. Eighty-one percent of middle school students met or exceeded the standards in math.

“We haven’t hit 90 percent yet, but we’re working on it,” Tripi said.

While the district doesn’t have large numbers in subgroup of special education, of the 24 elementary students in special education 71 percent met the achievement standard in math and 75 percent met the achievement standard in ELA, with 50 percent exceeding the standard.

Of the 29 special education students at the middle school level, 66 percent met or exceeded the standards in ELA and 55 percent achieved the standards in math.

The district also has a low number in its English learner subgroup. Of the eight students classified as English learners in elementary school, 75 percent met the standards in ELA and math. Of the five middle school English learners, only one met the standards in ELA and math.

iReady update

Tripi said one contributing factor to student success on their standardized testing scores was last year’s implementation of iReady, a new diagnostic assessment and personalized learning platform for students. The online program for reading and math helps teachers determine each child’s needs, provide differentiated instruction and monitor growth throughout the school year. The program replaced Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests.

Students regularly participate in iReady lessons and an iReady diagnostic test is done three times a year.

“An iReady score is a reasonable predictor of a CAASPP score,” said Ben Holbert, the district’s director of technology. As iReady tells teachers how to help students perform better, it follows that they will do better in iReady and CAASPP testing.

Elementary students at Rowe do one ELA and one math lesson in iReady a week. As the middle school lessons are more in depth, the district changed its schedule for middle schoolers to do just one iReady lesson a week, alternating between ELA and math.

In the lessons, students get a personalized learning path and instant feedback online. As iReady lessons mirror what students see on the computerized CAASPP tests, they become more familiar and comfortable with the testing process, Assistant Principal Megan Loh said.

President Sarah Neal said it’s a big shift for the district and she was looking for a way to evaluate the benefit of the personalized learning tool, as well as sharing her concerns that students may become overexposed with too much iReady. Board member Kali Kim also expressed her concerns with the program.

“We all want the personalized education but I also don’t want it just with testing and iReady. This seems like it’s more teaching to the test,” Kim said.

Loh said from her perspective as a teacher and an administrator, she does not believe iReady is just teaching to the test.

“The personalized learning platform is one aspect of iReady that the kids can do but the lessons that are provided for the teachers are teaching specific skills and strategies that are directly related to the Common Core Standards,” Loh said. “The lessons are great, they are hands-on, they have manipulatives and interactions between students and teachers and they’re built for small groups of kids. That part is a really essential component of the program, almost more so than the individualized platform.”

Tripi said teachers are using the iReady reports to inform classroom instruction and where to target individual student needs, creating a more interactive experience for students.

Vice President Tyler Seltzer said it is the board’s job to set expectations for test scores and overall student experience at the school and the district staff are the experts as far as the tools that will help them meet those goals--he didn’t want to get too far in the weeds as to how iReady is being used. Neal agreed but requested that the district finds a way to evaluate iReady’s benefit as a tool for student growth.