Increased use of non-fiction reading in elementary and middle schools, direct teaching of specific vocabulary words, reteaching of items missed on tests and increased use of physical objects in math exercises are among several strategies that will be used in improving reading and math scores in Cherokee schools.
The Cherokee School District, like districts across the country are working toward a goal of 100 percent of students proficient in reading, math and science by the 2013/14 school year, as required by the federal No Child Left Behind legislation.
Cherokee School Board members were informed of both positive areas and areas of concern during a presentation of the annual progress report on Monday.
The progress report shows academic performance at the three benchmark years for national comparisons (4th, 8th and 11th), and how the performance matches district and state goals of progress toward 100 percent proficiency, proficiency being defined as scoring above the bottom 40 percent nationally in the base year.
Most Iowa schools, including Cherokee, have a head start toward 100 percent proficiency because Iowa schools perform better on average than the national average.
Failure to make improvements in performance or failure to close the gap between demographic groups can result in being listed as a school in need of improvement. Being on this list year after year can mean progressively more serious sanctions against the district.
Areas of concern include middle school math and reading scores, which declined for the 2004-05 school year from the previous year's scores. Middle school reading scores dipped below the state trajectory, established as a goal for progress toward 100 percent proficiency. If this continues, Cherokee could be placed on the list of schools in need of improvement. There are currently 99 schools on the list in Iowa.
High school math scores dipped but remained above the state trajectory.
Other areas of concern are the discrepancy in test results between those students who have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and those who don't and the discrepancy between those who are eligible for free or reduced lunches because of income guidelines and those who aren't.
Those who have an IEP have been identified as needing individualized assistance in one or more areas of study. These students are included in the testing data and need to be brought up to proficiency according to the NCLB mandate.
John Chalstrom, superintendent, said that there has been some closing of the gap between the students in the different economic categories.
That diminishing gap is one of the items listed as areas of celebration in the report. Others include good science scores at all grade levels, better ACT scores than the state average and good scores in math and reading at the elementary level.
Chalstrom said studies indicate that certain students respond better to non-fiction reading than fiction, although English teachers often prefer fiction because of an educational background that emphasizes literature. Chalstrom noted that boys in particular seem to favor non-fiction.
Certain students learn math concepts best by using physical objects, called manipulatives, it was noted.
It was also noted that improvements can be made by spending time examining what question students are missing and reteaching those areas.
Chalstrom said that students often don't connect something they have read earlier in a reading exercise with a later reference to that information. Creating something similar to a flow chart which ties the information together can increase comprehension in reading.
Other initiatives to improve reading and math scores are already in progress. The FAME program is now in its second year at the high school. The FAME program targets those students most in need of improving reading skills.
The school has recently started using Saxon math texts. This material is based on the idea that learning math should be a fluid process with each unit building and reinforcing the one before it rather than simply going on to a whole new concept for each unit.
Linda Abbott, the director of curriculum, instruction and assessment prepared the annual report.