Upcoming code change to retain struggling students

Webster City schools are preparing for a state code change in 2017 which will require third grade students who do not meet reading benchmarks to be retained.

Mindy Mossman, principal at Pleasant View Elementary School, said she found out about the change to the Iowa Code in January with Chuck Bonjour, principal of Sunset Heights Elementary School. In a few years, those students who don’t meet reading benchmarks determined by FAST, the Formative Assessment System for Teachers, will be held back.

Mossman discussed the upcoming code change with the Webster City Community School District Board of Directors at their regular meeting on Tuesday. She said that students in kindergarten in the 2013 to 2014 class will be among the first to go through third grade with the change in place. As such, local elementary schools will be working this summer to strengthen the reading skills of students who are falling behind.

“To help them be where they need to be, we can’t take the summer off. We’ve got to keep reading and we’ve got to keep reading every week,” Mossman said.

About 110 parents of students between the ages of kindergarten and third grade have been sent letters asking them to attend an upcoming meeting to learn more about planned summer reading classes. Those students were selected based off of data from several assessments. Mossman said that included DIBELS, Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, assessments, Iowa assessments and MAP, Measures of Academic Progress, testing. The reading benchmark for first grade students in DIBELS assessments, which she said will be replaced by FAST assessments, is reading 47 words per minute.

Mossman said teachers will be hosting hour-long, small group classes over the summer with students who attend. They will also be asked to keep reading logs. Planned meetings with the parents of these students will also discuss finding the right books for their child’s reading level. Parents of students who attend will also receive reports on their child’s progress at the end of each summer month. While Mossman said she is mindful of families who have summer vacation plans, continued attendance for these struggling students will be beneficial.

“It’s not about maintenance of skills this summer, it’s about growing,” Mossman said.

The school is also offering transportation for students in these classes. Mossman said parents will discuss transportation needs at upcoming meetings with school faculty. Superintendent Mike Sherwood said the district’s share of a statewide grant for these programs was $24,000, which he said doesn’t go a long way.

Local schools are also looking at ways to continue tutoring into the school year. Mossman said FAST assessments will be done three times each school year. As required by the code change, those students who don’t meet assessment benchmarks will have reports sent to their home within two weeks of the testing. Parents will also be able to discuss those benchmarks at teacher conferences.

“I think that the positive part is it forces the engagement of parents and that’s really a big deal,” Sherwood said.

There are exceptions to the law. Those students with an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, will be exempted. Another exemption will be made for those students who put in a lot of effort. Mossman said if a student does not meet the benchmark, but attends school regularly, attends summer school and attends any tutoring opportunities offered, they will move on to fourth grade.

“There are always going to be students that just struggle,” Mossman said. “No matter what they do, there are always those students, so that’s good.”

In other business, the board held a public hearing on a proposed whole grade sharing agreement between the Webster City Community School District and the Northeast Hamilton Community School District. No public comments were made at the hearing. Both the Webster City and Northeast Hamilton school board previously approved the proposal at meetings held in April. A final vote will be taken by the Webster City board at their next meeting on June 30 at 6 p.m. in the School Administration Office Board Room.

The board also approved one resignation at their meeting for Seth McGrane, third grade teacher at Sunset Heights Elementary School.