The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

September 19, 2008

School district wants off list

Feds want quicker results

OTTUMWA — No excuses — the Ottumwa school district failed to close the achievement gap and it knows what it must do to do just that.

That was the word from Ottumwa Superintendent Jon Sheldahl after the announcement that Ottumwa was on a list of “districts in need of assistance.”

The list, issued by the Iowa Department of Education, names schools and districts which failed to improve at a rate keeping pace with the federal government’s “No Child Left Behind” act. The feds have said 100 percent of students must be proficient by 2014. So every year, the percentage of students who must pass the test gets closer and closer to that mark.

All public school students in grades 3-8 and 11 are tested to determine proficiency in reading and math using tests like the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS).

“... the changes provide ever increasing challenges for schools to make sure students not only make yearly growth, but, in some cases, make more than a year’s growth to achieve proficiency,” said Iowa Department of Education Director Judy Jeffrey.

That’s because some districts, including Ottumwa, were below the state proficiency average when the law went into effect.

“We’re working and making improvement, but we’re in catchup mode,” said Principal Steve Hanson at Ottumwa High School, which, along with Evans Middle School, makes up the two local buildings on the list.

“This is not a deterioration in [learning],” said Sheldahl. “It was an increasing [goal] and our inability to raise our test scores” to meet it.

In general, said Sheldahl, the district did pretty well with an overall score that had all tested grades proficient in math. All grades except 11th scored proficient in reading.

But when it came to “at-risk” students, including those who do not speak English and those with learning disabilities, the district failed to meet proficiency goals.

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