Milton Town School District’s scores from last spring’s standardized state exams show above-average results in English and language arts and math scores below the state average.
“Overall … I felt positive,” district data and assessment coordinator Tammy Boone said, noting the upward trends in student performance on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests. “It felt like a better story [than years past].”
The SBAC is an online state exam developed by teachers and educators around the U.S.
It was first administered in Milton during the 2014-15 academic year to students in Grades 3-8 and 11. Today, the exam is administered to students in Grades 3-9, according to Boone. Scores reflect the previous year’s efforts; as in, the test’s third grade test data is for today’s fourth-graders.
“It’s like the big picture,” Boone said. “It’s just that dipstick for the school.”
The scores help administrators identify and react to student needs. On the ELA portion of the exam, students in Grades 3, 4, 6, and 7 showed growth each year from 2015-18 and outperformed the state averages this year. Seventh-graders bested their 2015 attempt by about 19 percentage points. Grade 3, at 58 percent proficient, outperformed the state by about 8 points; and Grade 5, at 49 percent proficient, fell behind the state average by about 6 percent points.
Boone expressed great pride in the district’s ninth-graders, who exceeded the state average by 11 percentage points with 66 percent proficiency in ELA. She attributed students’ growth and performance to stability in the district’s ELA curriculum.
“In the past there’ve been a lot of changes,” director of curriculum, instruction, & information technology Lynne Manley said. “We’ve just really concentrated on increasing the teaching and learning with what we have.”
MTSD recently conducted professional development in reading and uses professional learning communities to examine how instruction aligns with student needs.
But math scores were a different story.
Although math scores improved from 2015-18 in all grade levels except Grade 7, students in Grades 5-8 scored below the state average. Grade 6, at 26 percent proficient, scored 15 points below the state average, and Grade 7, at 30 percent proficient, was 14 points below the state.
“We’re below the state, but in most grades we’re beginning to see an uptick,” Manley said. “We know it’s not good enough, we want to do better, and we’re working really hard to make that happen.”
This year MTSD added a K-5 math coach, federally funded through a School Improvement Grant it received three years ago. According to Boone, the SBAC data helped drive the decision to add the coach.
The position will exist for three years in the hope, Boone said, to have the math coach take external professional development and implement it within the schools.
“We just need to keep doing what we did in English language arts, which is really refine our practice, [and] hold steady with the curriculum that we have,” Manley added. “I think that will see more progress.”
While Milton’s youngest learners in grades K-2 don’t take the SBAC test, they are assessed on their reading abilities with the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System.
Data from 2015-18 shows a 39 percent decline in last year’s first grade cohort. A separate kindergarten assessment shows performance declines in text level, word identification, consonant-vowel-consonant words — like “dog” — and letter sounds from 2015-18.
The district knew it needed to address the issue for the current first and second grade cohort, according to Boone.
“We were like, ‘how can we address this and really wrap around it,’ knowing that students have to read by the end of third grade,” she said.
This year, the school has two reading interventionists placed with those young learners. Boone hopes to see advances with low-scoring students and maintain or grow advanced students’ abilities.
At the board meeting, superintendent Amy Rex questioned whether society might be an influencing factor in low test scores. She cited an increase in technology use among children, and the impacts of the national opiate crisis as possible symptoms.
“Our social fabric has changed,” Rex said.
“It’s fair to say that those social concerns are impacting school systems across the country,” Boone said. “What happens in your community does come into your school.”
While Manley said the district can’t fix these social issues, she added they can and do assess their learners’ needs.
For this reason, the district is working closely with community partners and trying to augment its understanding of students’ social and emotional wellbeing.
“We feel the more that we do that holistic approach that will help the learners in front of us,” Manley said.
Back in the halls of MTSD, she is hopeful a clear vision will steer Milton schools to further improvement and academic successes.
“We have a very committed faculty, staff and administration,” Manley said. “What my heart tells me, [is] that if we continue to work with Amy [Rex] to maximize the vision and then work towards that vision, then we’re going to see some very good things in the future.”