Wa-Nee students, teachers evaluated

NAPPANEE — An impressive list of agenda items came before members of the Wa-Nee Community Board of School Trustees in their final meeting before the launch of the 2012-13 school year. 
State evaluations
The board gathered at the Wa-Nee Administration Building on Monday evening, Aug. 13. Within the various topics up for consideration included the revelation that Wa-Nee students fared extremely well in the latest round of ISTEP+ testing, which was administered this past spring.
The ISTEP+ examinations are based upon requirements set forth by Indiana’s Academic Standards, and it is given to students to help determine who might be experiencing difficulty meeting grade level expectations. The test includes language arts and math at grades three through eight, science in grades four and six, and social studies for grades five and seven.
The exams were distributed in two parts, with the first portion in March including essay and short answer questions. In late April and early May, the second part, featuring questions in multiple choice form, was given.
By early June, students then received comprehensive individual reports tailored to their results, illustrating their performance in terms of “Pass +,” “Pass,” or “Did Not Pass.” Director of Curriculum Jim Bennett led the presentation on test results and data, starting with a comparison of how Wa-Nee measured up against other schools in neighboring communities and districts. For the total percentage of students passing in all areas, Wa-Nee outpaced seven local school corporations, followed in scoring order by Fairfield, Middlebury, Wawasee, Concord, Baugo, Elkhart, and Goshen.
Wa-Nee also topped the list for the number of students receiving passing scores in language arts, and was second only to Fairfield in the math category.
The average scores for grades three through five statewide, registered in percentages, were at 85 and 79 for third grade language arts and math. Fourth graders across Indiana averaged an 82 in language arts and a 79 in math, while fifth graders posted a median score of 78 for language arts and 86 for math.
At the middle school level, Indiana sixth graders landed at an average of 78 for language arts and an 82 for math, with seventh graders achieving an average 75 and 78 scores in the same. Eighth graders tallied at 73 percent for language arts and 80 for math.
The three elementary schools of the Wa-Nee district were very well represented in their scores. Woodview Elementary had 99 percent of their third graders passing the language arts section and 90 percent passed math. For the fourth graders, 88 percent aced the language arts, while 93 percent excelled in math. Fifth graders earned 89 percent passage in both categories.
At Wakarusa Elemen-tary, 88 percent of the third graders went above passing in language arts, with 77 percent doing likewise in math. Fourth graders topped out at 92 percent for each section, while fifth graders chalked up 86 and 87 percent passage for language arts and math.
Nappanee Elementary students racked up scores at 84 and 82 percent for language arts and math respectively in grade three, with fourth graders ending at 75 and 85 percent for the same two subjects. Fifth graders accomplished a 91 percent passing rate in language arts and 95 percent in math.
At NorthWood Middle School, students in grades six through eight also turned in an admirable slate of numbers. Sixth graders had 89 percent of their students passing in language arts and 91 percent similarly for math.
For grade seven, 89 percent of the class sailed through the language arts section, with 90 percent capturing passing scores in math. At the eighth grade level, 82 percent of the scholars crossed the passing threshold for language arts and 86 percent earned a pass in math.
While the board was happy to learn of the exemplary student performances, there was some question as to why certain scores seemed to fall on the lower end of the passing scale.  Bennett said that there were some instances reported of online testing glitches, particularly connectivity problems and “timing out” at errant moments. He added that they’ve been in touch with appropriate contacts at the state level to notify them of these occurrences, and there is a possibility that the scores could be modified to reflect those incidences.
Bennett also offered high praise for the teachers and support staff, noting that it was largely due to their intensive preparation and dedication to student improvement that such scores could be achieved. He explained that the role of instructional assistants has been refined somewhat in recent years, in that they are not necessarily bound to working solely with assigned teachers, but are given specialized time with individuals and groups of students as the needs arise.
Evaluating Wa-Nee educators
Also featured among the subjects for discussion was an issue that was met with a bit more trepidation — the eventual institution of a statewide program that is designed to recognize educator performance with regard to their classroom responsibilities and skills. By the 2015-16 academic year, those assessment indicators will be commensurate with Wa-Nee teacher salaries as well.
The program is known as the RISE Evaluation and Development System and was developed by committees under the jurisdiction of the Indiana Department of Education. Many of Indiana’s schools have already, or will soon be, adopting many of the guidelines set forth on how to conduct annual evaluations of all certified school employees.
Superintendent Joe Sabo talked with members of the board about this new approach and how it will be gradually introduced into the corporation’s standards. He said that while there are still no plans to weigh teacher evaluations alongside rates of pay for another three years, it would be wise to begin using the state guidelines ahead of that time, to make the process more uniform to the state’s recommendations. Sabo said that Wa-Nee administrators are taking advice and suggestions from Concord’s district, as they have already begun to segue into the newer program, also.
RISE has four specific categories, or what is termed “teacher effectiveness rubric domains,” through which teachers receive methods of scoring based upon additional subpoints under each domain. The four categories include Planning, Instruction, Leadership, and Core Professionalism. Ideally, teachers would score in the three to four range on a four-point scale.
When this format was brought forth as an introductory topic of discussion among Wa-Nee teachers this past spring, Sabo noted that most of the educators seem to still be adjusting to the concept. 
Admittedly, the board appeared a bit hesitant to render their full endorsement as well. Questions were raised as to how low standardized test scores could impact a teacher’s performance, and what to do about teachers who might register an evaluation of merely one or two.
Sabo was reassuring in addressing the concerns, saying, “There are still some questions to be resolved. I fully anticipate that there’ll be some tweaking.” 
Sabo also observed that many of the high standards being presented as a statewide blueprint are already well instituted, often over and above that norm, during Wa-Nee hirings and evaluations.
For those who might wish to gain a better understanding of what these new consultation procedures would entail, there is a website at www.riseindiana.org, which delves into the processes in further detail.
Several other matters were brought before the board for their perusal, and those issues will be featured in separate articles to be published in a future edition of the Advance-News.