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Mason City and Clear Lake Community School Districts’ statewide academic assessment test results are right where officials expected them.

Iowa students took the Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress, which replaced the former Iowa Assessments, for the first time last spring. The results were released this week.

Dr. Susan Pecinovsky, Mason City CSD executive director of curriculum and instruction, said overall scores in reading were “comparable to the state or surpassed the state.

Pecinovsky would not release the district's scores but said the state Department of Education would provide them with its district profiles in December.

“We’ve done a lot of work in literacy over the last few years, so that was very, very validating on the work that we’re doing,” she said.

Though scores were a bit lower than the state averages in math, Pecinovsky said the district expects to see the math scores to increase in the future.

The science scores were low, but Pecinovsky said that is not surprising after talking about it with people from across the state.

“The science – because I know we have a very strong science program – but the science assessment for this year is closely tied to the [Next Generation Science Standards], or the Iowa science standards, which [has not] been the case previously,” Pecinovsky said.

Clear Lake CSD Superintendent Doug Gee said the results went as expected in the Clear Lake school district as well, with most grades above the state average and some below, but this is just a benchmark test to see where they’re at and what they need to improve.

“Two things we need to keep in mind is this was a brand new test and it was mostly on computers,” he said. “I think we saw this especially at the elementary [level] – not only are you trying to get kids to answer questions, but how to navigate through the test using that device instead of a paper and pencil.”

The Clear Lake school district’s goal is to have its students continue to improve every year, and Gee said one of the areas they want to focus on in terms of curriculum is elementary math, which was one of the areas below the state average.

“We’ll keep teaching our Iowa core like we’ve been doing,” he said. “I think you did see some schools that tried to practice these tests. We didn’t practice them, and we’re not going to. I don’t want to spend a lot of time practicing. I feel like we should focus on the assessment standard that we should be teaching from Iowa core, and the rest will take care of itself.”

Pecinovsky said the tests were switched to the new ISASP tests because the state of Iowa needed to have an assessment aligned with the Iowa core standards to get federal funding, and the previous tests were not aligned with the standards.

The new tests were not timed, like the previous test had been, Pecinovsky said.

“For a lot of kids, when it is timed, and they know it’s timed, their level of anxiety just goes [through the roof], and this, I think, will kind of let people just settle in a little bit, and so I expect over time that we’ll see that get better,” she said. “This was the first time for the kids, too, so obviously it was all new to them as well, but I so appreciate the fact that we’ve moved away from it being timed because that’s just not productive for students.”

Pecinovsky said the level of questioning was at a much higher level of rigor, and the tests had a writing component, or a “constructed response,” in addition to the multiple choice questions.

“That allowed them to show more thinking skills,” she said.

The Mason City CSD personnel reviewed and evaluated the data and sent home individual student results Nov. 26.

“ISASP better reflects what’s being taught in Iowa classrooms and how students are progressing toward grade-level expectations outlined in Iowa’s academic standards,” the district said in a press release. “This makes ISASP one measure that helps teachers understand where students are succeeding and where they may need more help.”

The results will reset the baseline for future progress on the new state test and should not be compared to results from previous years, as the state test is new, different and more aligned to Iowa’s academic standards, the district said.

The test results will be used to report to the parents and community, help guide instruction and assist school districts in their school improvement planning. They will be applied to Iowa’s school accountability system, as required by federal law.

“I think it’s too early to make big adjustments on what we’re doing,” Pecinovsky said. “I’m not sure that one data point, and especially the first administration, would warrant that, but we are using it to look and see, ‘OK, what do we need to keep our eye on moving forward?’”

Gee echoed this sentiment, saying he won’t get “too hung up on one test score,” especially since there are a lot of things the district is doing to help its students be more prepared for college or a career.

“Those types of things, teaching kids how to do other things, those are things that I, quite honestly, am more worried about making sure we’re doing those,” he said. “I realize it’s a test we do have to pay attention to, but it’s only one test, so I’m definitely not going to get too excited about the scores being down a little bit on one test that was a brand new test on brand new standards that we have never been tested on before and on a computer that we’ve never, compared to other tests, we’ve never done.”

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Grace Zaplatynsky can be reached at 641-421-0534.

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