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State report card shows some improvements for Waterloo, Cedar Falls schools

WATERLOO — Fourteen of the 27 schools in the Cedar Valley’s two largest districts are showing improvements on a statewide ratings system.

The online Iowa School Report Card — recently updated to include 2017 data — tracks 10 measures such as proficiency, progress toward closing achievement gaps, graduation rates, college and career readiness, attendance, and staff retention. Based on each school’s performance over two years, the Iowa Department of Education gives one of six ratings from priority to exceptional. Rating assignments are determined by where each school falls on a 100-point scale.

For 10 Waterloo Community Schools’ buildings, that number increased from 2016, with three moving up a category. Those were Lincoln Elementary School, George Washington Carver Academy and East High School. Three of the remaining eight that decreased also dropped a category, including Kingsley, Lou Henry and Orange elementary schools.

In Cedar Falls Community Schools, the number increased for four buildings. Those were North Cedar, Orchard Hill, and Southdale elementary schools plus Holmes Junior High. Two of the remaining five schools that decreased also dropped a category, including Cedar Heights Elementary School and Peet Junior High.

Statewide, a fifth of all public schools received a higher overall rating than last year while about half stayed the same, according to the Department of Education. Just under 30 percent received a lower rating.

Seven of the 10 measures that make up the rating are drawn from results on the reading and math portions of the Iowa Assessments, a standardized test that all students in third through eighth and 11th grades take each spring.

On the proficiency measure, combined math and reading scores in Cedar Falls show minimal changes of about 1 percentage point or less between 2016 and 2017. Two of its schools grew in proficiency while the others declined.

Similar small changes in proficiency happened at six Waterloo schools, with two increasing and four decreasing. Larger growth happened at six schools, with the highest changing 3.7 percentage points. The remaining six declined up to 3.3 percentage points.

Charles McNulty, Waterloo Community Schools associate superintendent for educational services, said the district has already made adjustments to instruction based on the testing data, which officials received months ago.

“This is really more of that summative assessment of what we did six to eight months ago,” he said. As a result, administrators are already targeting interventions to schools with the “priority” and “needs improvement” ratings. Seeing the report card “makes us more confident that we’ve chosen the right targets.”

McNulty appreciates the ability to compare schools to others in the state using the online tool, including between those that are among its eight largest districts. He noted that while Expo Alternative Learning Center is one of two priority schools in Waterloo, it is the “second-ranked alternative school in the state.”

The report card doesn’t tell the whole story about how students are doing in the district, though. “There’s more to achievement than a high-stakes test in the spring,” he said.

Cedar Falls Superintendent Andy Pattee made the same point about the report card. “It’s something that we review and look at, as well as multiple other data sources.”

On another point largely unrelated to student achievement, he noted the district had a lot of retirees last year, which was “counted against us” on the staff retention measure. “We anticipated it, but it comes across in an adverse way in some of the reports.”