The Ottumwa Courier

August 27, 2013

Feedback from a friend

By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — There's so much information available about student and district achievement, trying to read it all off the page can fall flat. That's one reason why Board of Education members appreciate the chance to talk about the numbers in a meaningful way.

"It's difficult for me to assess the data without knowing how it is being [gathered] or how it has been acquired," said school board member Greg Riley. "There are a lot of variables involved."

This week, the school board met with the Community Advisory Committee, which has regular three-hour sessions throughout the year in which they review student achievement data; they also study district actions to see if the administration is putting into place the policies they said they would put in place.

Riley said input from the advisory committee is one of the ways the board can see if these standards are being met.

"We use the advisory as a critical friend," said Superintendent Davis Eidahl. "We give them a lot of data and show how we're addressing issues. It's a group of about 45 individuals. With that diversity in the advisory, we get a wide range of views. We really try to create an opportunity for dialogue and feedback."

Some highlights from the meeting, as told by Eidahl: discussion of going from kindergarten through fifth-grade education to separate K-1 and 2-5; using the Iowa Safe and Supportive Schools grant to create a "culture of achievement" at Ottumwa High School; the new literacy curriculum piloted last year in just a few classrooms ("It was very successful," said Eidahl) will be implemented districtwide in elementary schools this year; more kids took the ACT college entrance exam.

They also saw places to improve, Eidahl said.

"Our data does indicate we need to strengthen core instruction," he said.

Riley was fine with that conclusion being pointed out to them.

"I appreciate the advisory committee," he said. "We all share the goal that the district goes in the right direction."

"We believe the changes we are making in our literacy curriculum," Eidahl added, "will [improve] student achievement in places where there are deficits."

It may be a bit of a surprise to some parents that one category, "literacy," is considered so important compared to other skills. But that's because it's important to so many skills.

"There are literacy strands identified across all content areas: math, science, social studies all have a literacy component," Eidahl said.

Literacy is more than being able to read, he explained. It's being able to write, to speak, to listen. Students are expected to be able to comprehend information in multiple ways: to analyze, to infer, to predict, even to summarize.

That also gets the district closer to other goals: graduates who are critical thinkers, good communicators and informed decision-makers.

— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark