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Ellsworth School Board examines Forward Exam and ACT data

ELLSWORTH – Ellsworth Elementary Principal/ Director of Special Education Mary Zimmerman presented Ellsworth School Board members Monday, Nov. 14 with the district’s latest Forward Exam and ACT data, which shows the district has some work to do.

For grades 3-5, Ellsworth ranks sixth out of the eight Middle Border Conference district in the percentage of students who scored as “proficient” or “advanced” in English Language Arts at 46.3%. Prescott is at the top with 58.3%, while Altoona is at the bottom with 41.6%. For math, EES ranked fourth out of the eight schools with 56.3% of students scoring “proficient” or “advanced.” Prescott was again at the top with 70%; Osceola was eighth with 43.2%.

As for students with disabilities, in grades 3-5, Ellsworth was fifth out of the eight MBC districts with 15.6% considered “proficient” or “advanced” in English Language Arts. Prescott was at the top with 36.6% and Altoona was at the bottom with 8.3%. In math, students with disabilities were fourth in the MBC with 22.2%; Prescott was No. 1 with 43.9% and Amery was eighth with 10.5%.

Fourth grade students with disabilities were fourth in science with 31.3% scoring “proficient” or “advanced,” while Baldwin-Woodville nabbed the top spot with 55.2%; Osceola rounded out the eight with 15.4%. And lastly, fourth grade students with disabilities in social studies were third in the MBC with 37.5%, behind only Baldwin-Woodville (62.1%) and Prescott (63.6%).

Zimmerman outlined the action plan for the elementary school and noted this year will be the first year of a new math program for K-4 students.

“We’re looking at what will we do about it and what’s going to be different,” Zimmerman said. “We should be able to look at those other schools and learn from what they’re doing.”

Action steps include: Math: Improve students’ number sense by teaching consistent, specific, and flexible strategies; continue staff training in fractions and early numeracy using Graham Fletcher’s Courses English / Language Arts: Pilot From Phonics to Reading supplemental resource in grades K-3; implement new resource Close Reading of Complex Text in grades 3-5; depth of knowledge and complex text across all subjects areas Principal Travis Logslett noted the school held a math night two weeks for families and received great feedback.

“We have a very clear picture of the depth they need to get to,” Zimmerman said.

When talking about scores for the middle school, Zimmerman noted that science and social studies are strengths. However, work needs to be done to improve math and ELA scores. In ELA, Ellsworth ranked sixth with 43.9% of eighth graders earning “proficient” or “advanced.” In math, Ellsworth came in eighth with 39.3%; first-place Osceola boasted a score of 66.7%.

The discussion turned toward test scores for middle school students with disabilities. Ellsworth was fourth in ELA with 12.1% of students scoring “proficient” or “advanced.” In math, Ellsworth was last with 4.5%, in science with 10% and in social studies with 25%.

EMS Principal Olin Morrison said special education teachers need to be special education teachers, but aren’t able to focus on their jobs.

“We need our special education teachers being special education teachers,” he said. “We were in a pattern of playing fireman. We have talented people who were flying around putting out fires. Talented people need to be working toward IEP goals.”

Zimmerman said pulling special education students out of class can be detrimental, because they need to be doing the same work as their classmates, not a watered- down version. Morrison is encouraging his staff to adopt the idea that all students are their students, special education or regular.

“They are all literacy teachers within their own content areas,” Morrison said. “We need to have a collective commitment that all of our students are all of our students. It’s a trap many buildings fall into. It’s a mindset to work toward to ensure that every day we have that kind of commitment to every student in every class.”

When asked if the low scores in special education are a staffing issue, Morrison said no.

“I honestly don’t think it’s a staffing issue,” he said. “It’s all about how are you working, what are your systems in place and what is your commitment to student learning. Those are things that make big differences in addressing achievement gaps.”

Morrison and Zimmerman both said they’re starting to generate questions for other schools.

Board Treasurer Julie Lundstrom asked Morrison what troubles him the most when looking at the data.

“I don’t know that anything troubles me,” he answered. “I feel really lucky and optimistic. I see how the professionals in our building, how they’re engaging in the work. Teachers are excited that there’s accountability to this work, rather than saying they’re going to dive in and not. I’m optimistic because I don’t hear a lot of the things I’ve heard in other places.”

The work he spoke of is focusing on Professional Learning Communities and holding them accountable to making changes that focus on common outcomes for all students, not individualized standards.

Zimmerman added that special education in general is a “highly flawed program.”

“The idea that a child should come out of the classroom for special help from a special ed teacher who does not specialize and is less qualified in that content area than the general ed teacher,” Zimmerman said. “It’s a licensing issue, not staffing issue, across the country.”

She added that aides sometimes help too much and create a sense of learned helplessness.

“By truly helping, it’s OK for that student to struggle,” Zimmerman said. “People’s intuition is to help, we don’t want to see kids struggle.

“It’s time to upset the apple cart pretty big, which everyone is not in favor of.”

Zimmerman said she is looking into a program where special education teachers co-teach with general education teachers; no students would be pulled out of any classes.

At the high school, 10th graders were second in the MBC in social studies, with 61.5% of students scoring “proficient” or “advanced,” just behind Somerset who scored 69%. Students with disabilities came in fifth in the MBC at 7.1%.

And as for ACT scores, Ellsworth students averaged a score of 20.7, which is fourth in the MBC. Baldwin-Woodville is at the top with 21.4. The state average score is 19.3. Prescott was in second with 21.

EHS Principal Oran Nehls said he’s focused on making sure all staff are addressing the four PLC questions: What do we want ALL students to know and be able to do?

How will we know when they have learned it?

What do we do if they have not learned it?

What do we do if they have learned it?

It’s important to stay the course in PLCs, because if they get off track, some staff will just wait you out, Nehls said.

“Because at some point you’ll just stop talking about it and forget about it,” he said. “Push through the tough times to make sure the processes are done to fidelity.”

Superintendent Barry Cain agreed that nothing will change if changes aren’t made.

“It really takes strong leadership and a strong team to make it happen,” he said.

Personnel

The school board approved the following personnel changes: Hires: Judy Brock, district- wide substitute teacher; Ryan Brown, high school/ elementary school custodian; Kylie Larsen, EHS special education teaching assistant; Amy Ptacek, long-term substitute teacher; Katie Seif, EHS science teacher Extra/co-curricular: Connor Bailey High School Varsity Assistant Boys Basketball Coach Tim Cerni High School Varsity Assistant Girls Basketball Coach Mollie Johnson High School C Team Girls Basketball Coach Diana Lange Middle School 7th Grade Boys Basketball Asst. Coach Danielle Lewis Middle School Assistant Musical Director Ryan Paul Weight Room Supervisor-Spring Hilary Thom Elementary Pupil Services Department Chair Chad Wittenberg Middle School 8th Grade Boys Basketball Coach Other business

The board approved a resolution authorizing shortterm borrowing from CCF Bank of $1.5 million at a fixed rate of 5.75% for one year. The hope is the line of credit won’t be needed, but due to the timing of state payments, it may be needed until those payments are received. “We hope not to need it, but it’s good to have in place as a safety measure,” Cain said.

Two school board seats will be up for election in April: Gary Kressin and Kurt Buckner. People wishing to run need to turn their papers into the district by 5 p.m. Jan. 3.

During its special recognition time, the board celebrated the accomplishments of the Ellsworth Middle School Veterans Day program, led by Mr. Kobberdahl; EHS musical cast and crew; cross country athletes Alex Pazdernik, who placed eighth at state, and Max Bergner; the EES Touch a Truck event; and Wisconsin State Honors Music students, of which there were eight.

November 22, 2022