Ottumwa High School

OTTUMWA — Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress scores released this month show Ottumwa students trailing their peers around the state in nearly every grade and subject.

The ISASP test is the new annual aptitude test for students. The first was administered in spring 2019, replacing the Iowa Assessments test. This new test was created to better align with the Iowa Core Standards. It tests students in three areas: English, science, and math.

Instead of a straight numerical score, students are deemed “advanced,” “proficient,” or “not yet proficient” in each of the three areas. In every area except 10th-grade science, the number of Ottumwa students regarded proficient or advanced fell below the statewide average.

The difference was quite substantial in a number of instances. Only 48 percent of sixth-grade students in Ottumwa were labelled proficient in math. The statewide average was 69 percent. English tells a similar story. Only 52 percent of Ottumwa eighth-graders were deemed proficient in English, versus 69 percent of students around the state.

Marci Dunlap, director of secondary education with the Ottumwa district, attributed much of the difference in performance to the structure of the ISASP. Many of the questions on the test required written responses, unlike the previous assessments, which were entirely multiple-choice.

The test is more academically rigorous as well. The English section had grammar and writing components, neither of which were skills tested by the Iowa Assessments.

The only area where Ottumwa students outperformed their peers was in 10th-grade science. Sixty-nine percent of 10th-graders in Ottumwa were deemed proficient in science, versus an average of 63 percent of students around the state.

However, it’s unclear if this represents a larger trend. The ISASP only tested fifth, eighth, and 10th graders in science, and Ottumwan fifth and eighth-graders were both 13 percent below the rest of the state.

Dunlap said the district has been analyzing the data to see where instruction in Ottumwa is failing to meet the Iowa Core. These results will factor into each school’s improvement plan going forward.

“This is part of an ongoing conversation,” she said.

She said the next step is to break the results down by building, so the district can see what specific areas need the most attention. Those findings will be presented at the next school board meeting on Monday, Dec. 2.

Those with further questions should contact the school district at 641-684-6597.

Jack Langland can be reached at


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