One northern Panhandle school district earned an excellent classification, while two others scored in the great category in the recently released rankings from the state’s Department of Education.
Sioux County Public Schools is one of 21 districts statewide ranked as excellent, the highest rating available in the classification system launched in 2015. Districts in Chadron and Hay Springs were each classified as great, the second highest tier. Gordon-Rushville, Crawford and Hemingford ranked in the good category.
Rankings are determined from a variety of factors, including student test scores, graduation rates, programs for and progress by English Second Language learners, the reduction of chronic absenteeism and practices, policies and procedures in place to align with the six tenants spelled out in the state’s Accountability for a Quality Education System Today and Tomorrow (AQuESTT). Both districts and individual schools are classified as excellent, great, good or needs improvement.
Sioux County Superintendent Dr. Brett Gies attributes the district’s ranking to several factors.
“We have really good teachers. They care about the kids,” he noted.
Small class sizes, a rigorous after school program and the attention to data also play a large role.
“We use data all the time and assess how we are teaching,” Dr. Gies said. Teachers administer monthly tests based on state standards in three content areas and use that data to re-teach concepts with which students are struggling. The DIBELS tests also are an important indicator, and the district works with Educational Service Unit 13 on its continuous improvement program.
“We monitor student achievement all the time,” he said. “Our attendance rate is also extremely high. Research shows that attendance is critical.”
This is the district’s first time achieving the excellent rating, and Dr. Gies said the staff is focused on maintaining the high quality of education being provided. A new reading program was adopted recently, and the board just approved the purchase of a new science curriculum; the district’s math program is also under review.
The school board has also approved releasing students from school early one Friday each month to allow teachers training time on the new curriculum and on effective teaching methods. The board’s support, and that of the community, to provide that time for staff is a reflection of the district’s commitment, Dr. Gies said.
Sioux County’s grade school in Harrison received an excellent rating, while its remaining schools – Chalk Butte and Pink elementary schools and the high school – were ranked as great.
Chadron’s intermediate school also received an excellent rating, while the rest of its buildings scored in the great category.
Chadron Superintendent Dr. Caroline Winchester said she is pleased with this year’s results, though the goal is always to continue performing at a high level year after year. One of the biggest challenges going forward will come in the science curriculum. The state has a vision for creating a more integrated science curriculum, and schools will have to make that teaching adjustment. Assessment of the content will also likely change. The vision is to teach concepts that might traditionally be taught in only one science class – such as chemistry – in other content areas – earth science, for example – when the principles apply, said Dr. Winchester. The change is long overdue but will be a hurdle for districts as it is rolled out, she said.
Statewide, more schools were rated in the needs improvement category as compared with the first round of classifications three years ago. In 2015, 87 schools and 10 districts were ranked as needing improvement; those numbers jumped to 155 schools and 24 districts this year. The number of schools in the great and good categories also declined, from 473 to 427 schools in the great classification and from 423 to 386 in the good class.
Schools near the classification cutoff can argue that they should be moved up a category and submit evidence of practices to justify the move; 105 schools have that opportunity this year, and those reviews are ongoing. Sioux County’s Chalk Butte and Pink schools, as well as its high school, are all eligible for the review, which could bump them up to excellent.
The Department of Education also released the most recent Nebraska Student-Centered Assessment System test scores along with the rankings. Students in grades three through eight are tested each year in English and math, and all juniors now take the ACT as part of the statewide testing. Grades five through eight are also tested in science.
The percentages of students who test as proficient in the three content areas have dropped from previous results due to the state’s new assessments and more rigorous standards. Dr. Gies said all schools in the state are working to adjust to the new standards and assessments – thus the adoption of new curriculum in his district. He’s confident that in time proficiency percentages will rise again.
Detailed information on the rankings and test scores can be reviewed at http://nep.education.ne.gov.