Cedar Rapids students make overall gains in reading, math

Some schools show math struggles; admins suggest new materials as factor

A cursive alphabet in a Coolidge Elementary School classroom in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)
A cursive alphabet in a Coolidge Elementary School classroom in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

More of the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s students are making the grade when it comes to math and reading.

The results for the 2013-14 Iowa Assessments, released earlier this summer, show that 74 percent of district test-takers met proficiency in reading, while 76 percent did so in math. Those are increases from 68 percent and 73 percent, respectively, from 2012-13. The results reflect the achievement of students in grades three through 11 on the standardized tests.

Reading proficiency rates grew in 21 of the district’s 31 schools and remained flat at three.

“We’re pleased with the gains,” said Karla Ries, instructional services director for the district. “I think we can attribute those things to a lot of factors. We’ve implemented a new performance-based assessment. We’re constantly working on our coaching and assessment and coaching our teachers to use data at the classroom level and have that inform their instruction.”

Ries admitted that the results were less rosy when it came to math, whereas many schools showed growth as their counterparts showed declines. Fourteen buildings bested rates from 2012-13, three remained flat and another 14 experienced declines.

“We did a huge materials adoption that was just implemented this school year,” Ries said, noting that most of the drop-offs were 2- and 3- percent differences. “Yes, it was a decline. We’re not talking extreme. ... It is important to keep perspective.”

The district’s elementary schools are now using Pearson’s enVisionMATH Common Core materials, which are advertised as aligning with the Common Core State Standards. Ries said they also comply with the statewide version, the Iowa Core.

“The instruction in the classroom improves the longer you work with those materials,” said Deputy Superintendent Mary Ellen Maske, who said that the curriculum itself has not changed. “We are using those materials as our core or our basis for instruction. ... We continue to supplement that curriculum in many many ways.”

Maske said she would need more information before pointing to the new math resources as the cause of the math dip.

Ries also mentioned Coolidge Elementary School, where the math proficiency rate declined from 92 percent to 89 percent but still remained among the highest in the district, with only Truman Elementary School (91 percent, up from 86 percent in 2012-13) and Viola Gibson Elementary School (93 percent, up from 91 percent in 2012-13) besting it.

Proficiency rates in grades six, seven and eight tend to skew lower than the elementary and high-school levels. Ries said changes set to take effect starting this fall at the middle schools, including a daily period of enrichment or intervention for all students, may reverse the trend in reading.

“That’s an expectation,” she said. “We are basically doubling the amount of time all students are spending on literacy.”

Performance on the Iowa Assessments, which define proficiency as scores above 40 percent, is used to measure whether or not schools and districts are making Adequate Yearly Progress in compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Ries said the district has preliminary information regarding that status.

Communications Director Staci Hupp of the Iowa Department of Education said the state’s annual report card, which includes that information, will not be available until late August.

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