Working Together . . . . Improving Teaching and Learning.
The mission of the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency is to improve teaching and learning for all students through active partnerships and assertive leadership in a climate of mutual respect. In 2002, the Agency in collaboration with school district leadership set student reading, mathematics, and science goals based on the aggregate Iowa Testing student achievement data in reading, mathematics, and science for the 22 public school districts served by Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency. The Agency’s baseline-student achievement data (2000-2001) indicated that minority students, students eligible for a free or reduced priced lunch (low SES), and students with an individual education plan (IEP) were performing substantially below their peers. The 2004-05 Iowa Testing student achievement data results have been analyzed and compared to the baseline data for 4th grade reading and math, 8th grade reading, math, and science, and 11th grade reading, math, and science. A brief description of that comparison and the significance of those results are provided in the following paragraphs.
The 4th grade 2004-05 student achievement data in comparison to the baseline data is remarkable and indicative of the tremendous effort by students, teachers, and administrators with the support of the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency. There has been a tremendous achievement gap reduction among minority students (43.5%), low SES students (38%), and IEP students (25.7%) over the five year period. A variety of school improvement efforts have been evident in the elementary schools which may have contributed to the 4th grade achievement results. Examples are the statewide Reading First Initiative, the implementation and monitoring of research-based reading and math instructional strategies, direct instruction of target skills, alignment of curriculum at grade level and between grade levels, implementation of the Iowa Professional Development Model, and participation in federally supported grant initiatives. An additional factor that has had an impact is the influence that strong building leadership has had on increased student achievement and student learning.
The 8th grade student achievement data also shows improvement in reading, mathematics, and science. Minority students, low SES students, and IEP students have made substantial gains in achievement. The achievement gap has been reduced in each content area and by sub-group with the exception of students with IEPs in the area of reading. With the support of the MBAEA, middle school/junior high staffs in collaborative teams have analyzed student achievement data in order to make better decisions about curriculum, instruction, and assessment, are implementing and monitoring the use of scientific research-based reading strategies in the content areas, and are implementing intervention/prevention measures that support student learning. Other initiatives that are impacting student achievement are the Cognitive Tutor, Middle Grades That Work, and Teaching American History.
The 11th grade achievement data indicates that there have been small gains in achievement for minority students, low SES students and IEP students in science when compared to the baseline data of 2000-01. There are still gaps in achievement for IEP students in reading, and for all subgroups in mathematics. It is difficult to gauge high school improvement efforts based on the current results. Prior to No Child Left Behind, high schools were not testing all students. In 2004-05, area high schools tested 20-25% more students than the baseline year. Area high schools recognize the achievement gap and are making the effort to reduce that gap by aligning their curriculum, implementing reading strategies in their content areas, initiating a system of learning supports for all students, and participating in grant initiatives supported by MBAEA. As the Iowa Department of Education completes its comprehensive study of Iowa high schools and provides specific recommendations regarding the direction for high school change, MBAEA in collaboration with the DE and other AEAs will further develop those recommendations in order to assist high schools as they work to meet the recommendations of the DE.
The data illustrates significant improvement in student learning and it appears recent improvement efforts may have contributed to these gains. The improvement process being employed by the schools and the Agency have focused on setting priorities, monitoring progress, making changes as needed, and having a genuine desire for all students to be successful. Area schools and Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency are truly partnering to build school capacity so that all students can reach high levels of learning.