By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor
The Iowa Department of Education released the Iowa School Report Card earlier this month, and it contains good news for the Fairfield Community School District.
The report card grades a school according to its students? academic proficiency, their career and college readiness, graduation rate, and attendance. It also grades how well each school is closing the achievement gap between traditionally disadvantaged groups and the rest of the student body. Those groups include students on free and reduced-price lunches, those learning English as a second language and those in special education.
The report relies on data from last spring when Libertyville Elementary School was still in operation. Of the five school buildings in the district, four were given ?acceptable? grades and the fifth, Washington Elementary School was given the grade above that, ?commendable.? Being named ?commendable? meant that Washington Elementary was about in the top 40 percent of elementary schools in the state. Fairfield Middle School missed earning the ?commendable? honor by an eyelash, just one-tenth of a point.
Statewide proficiency in mathmatics and reading was 78 percent. Washington had 83 percent of its students proficient in those subjects. The report showed Washington?s students make good progress during the academic year, especially in reading. Jeff Eeling is principal at Washington Elementary.
Twenty-eight percent of the other elementary schools received the ?commendable? distinction. Eleven percent were noted as ?high performing,? and a select 2 percent were ?exceptional.?
Pence making strides
Earning an ?acceptable? mark means the school is in the middle of the pack. That?s the grade Pence Elementary received. Being ?acceptable? may not seem like much, but it?s actually a marked improvement from where the school was just two years ago when it received a ?priority? classification, putting it in the bottom 3 percent. In 2016, Pence moved up one classification to ?needs improvement.?
The biggest difference between then and now is how Pence has raised the scores of its disadvantaged students. It used to have one of the largest discrepancies in performance between those students and the others, but now that discrepancy has shrunk so much Pence is outperforming the state average.
School superintendent Laurie Noll attributes Pence?s improved report card to the steady leadership of Principal Chuck Benge and the hard work of the teachers in the building.
?They follow each child?s progress closely,? she said.
Pence and other schools in the district match kids with others that have the same needs. This allows teachers to narrow their focus and tackle a problem that multiple students face. Noll said the district?s instructors bring a great attitude to the job, too.
?The teachers convince the students they will succeed no matter their background,? she said.
Noll said the main takeaway from the report is that every building in the district improved. On top of that, she learned that the areas a school focuses on are those that tend to see improvement on the report card. That?s a lesson principals, teachers and administrators won?t forget as they craft education plans and programs.
A critical part of any successful school is having parents who care about their child?s academics. One way elementary schools have encouraged parents to play a bigger role in education is to host literacy nights. Students show off the progress they?ve made through educational games and activities.
?A lot of parents didn?t realize how much fun their child was having playing these games, and it gave them an idea of how to incorporate games into home learning,? Noll said.
Here's how buildings in nearby districts rate on the 2017 report card:
Van Buren High School: Acceptable
Van Buren Elementary School: Needs Improvement
Harmony Elementary School: Acceptable
Cardinal Middle-High School: Acceptable
Cardinal Elementary School: Acceptable
Pekin High School: Needs Improvement
Pekin Middle School: Acceptable
Pekin Elementary School: Acceptable
Mt. Pleasant High School: Commendable
Mt. Pleasant Middle School: Needs Improvement
Mt. Pleasant Lincoln Elementary: Needs Improvement
Mt. Pleasant Harlan Elementary: Needs Improvement
Mt. Pleasant Salem Elementary: Acceptable
Mt. Pleasant Van Allen Elementary: Needs Improvement
Washington High School: Acceptable
Washington Middle School: Needs Improvement
Washington Stewart Elementary: Unable to rate
Washington Lincoln Upper Elementary: Acceptable
Ottumwa High School: Acceptable
Ottumwa Evans Middle School: Acceptable
Ottumwa Douma Elementary: Unable to rate
Ottumwa Eisenhower Elementary: Commendable
Ottumwa Horace Mann Elementary: Acceptable
Ottumwa James Elementary: Priority
Ottumwa Liberty Elementary: Needs Improvement
Ottumwa Wilson Elementary: Needs Improvement