Fatima improves in several areas, will use new tools to help students test better

By Neal A. Johnson, UD Editor
Posted 11/8/23

W ESTPHALIA   — Fatima Curriculum Coordinator Janah Massman is pleased that students improved last spring in several subject areas but acknowledges there’s more to do.

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Fatima improves in several areas, will use new tools to help students test better


WESTPHALIA  — Fatima Curriculum Coordinator Janah Massman is pleased that students improved last spring in several subject areas but acknowledges there’s more to do.

“I’d like to see us above the state average all the time,” said Massman of the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) and End Of Course (EOC). “That’s a goal of mine, our teachers, to be better than the state, so we just keep working on getting there.

“I always tell the kids to compare it to sports,” she added. “We don’t just want to be better than other schools at sports. We want to be better than them in academics, too. We want to be the best at everything.”

MAP tests students in grades 3-8 in Math and English Language Arts (ELA), while Science is tested in fifth and eighth grades.

Last year, 41% of third-grade ELA students were proficient or advanced, compared to a 42% state average, while in Math, Fatima students crushed the state (41%) with 70% scoring well. “That’s a really good score,” said Massman.

Fourth-graders were close to the state average, with 40% of ELA students scoring proficient or advanced (45% state) and 49% hitting P/A compared to 44% for the state.

At the fifth-grade level, students scored similarly to the state average in Math (42%/39%) and ELA (43%/44%) while doing better than the state in Science (51%/41%).

Sixth-graders scored higher in Math (57%) than the state (44%) while finishing slightly below the state in ELA (33%/37%).

Last year’s seventh-graders did nearly twice as well as the state, with 66% proficient or advanced compared to a 37% state average. They were also higher in Math (50%/40%).

Jumping to eighth grade, students last year struggled in ELA, with just 27% scoring proficient or advanced compared to 43% for the state. In Math, 32% were P/A, while the state average was 40%. Science scores were close at 36% (38%).

Massman said she is still determining why the ELA scores were so much lower last year. “When I look at the curriculum taught and when I look at the Evaluate testing program we use, the scores are fine,” she noted. “On that program, we should have had students scoring higher than that.

Some things are out of our control on the days we test. Whether a kid got enough sleep, whether they breakfast, their effort — we can’t control those things. I’m not saying that that’s what happened, but that’s something we look at. The state scored a 43, and we’re at a 27. That’s not even close. I can’t explain that one. When I look at their seventh-grade scores, that’s not how they were.”

At the high school level last year, 28% of students in Biology I were proficient or advanced on the EOC, while the state average was 39%.

In the Algebra I EOC, 48% scored P/A compared to 42% for the state.

On the Government EOC last year, 32% were proficient or advanced, just below the state average of 39%.

English I students were slightly below the state average of 63%, with 57% scoring proficient or advanced. In English II, however, 63% scored well compared to 55% for the state.

“You’re not comparing apples to apples there,” said Massman. “You’ve got a different group of kids, but it’s nice to see some curriculum changes from one year to the next are paying off. Hopefully, we continue to go up.

“We’ve got some new materials being brought in and making some changes in the curriculum that will hopefully help with the gap,” Massman added of the Next Generation Science Standards. “Government’s kind of in the same boat. We had a shift in teachers in this department, and we’re looking for those scores to improve.”

There have been several teaching changes in the High School English Department as well, with veteran teacher Matt Baker the only returning educator this year.

“I’m confident that our new teachers will continue to improve, and our scores will go up,” said Massman.

At the elementary level, Fatima is using Renaissance Learning, an Accelerated Reader program using the Evidence-based Reading Instruction Program Fund established by SB 681. Part of Renaissance is an option called Freckle, which assesses a student’s reading level, determines deficiencies, and assigns work related to that level. Teachers can also manually create assignments based on the assessment.

Massman noted that if the program does well in ELA, Superintendent Chuck Woody supports purchasing the Math component next year.

Reading Specialist Melissa Heisler moved from Title I to help teachers understand reading components.

“Professional development the last couple of years led us to have Melissa in that position,” said Massman. “She has a lot of quite a strengths that I think will help us.”

Massman also noted the Missouri Learning Standards (MLS) have changed often in the last few years. However, Massman said the previous two years have given her some consistency.

“We’re still coming back from COVID in many ways,” said Massman. “I hate to play the COVID card, but I think we still have some holes from the pandemic that we’re trying to catch up on. It’s getting closer, but it’s there.”

Another aspect to consider is that each class or cohort is tracked through each grade level, but students come and go, meaning it’s impossible to accurately represent a group’s success rate from one year to the next.

“We can’t compare year to year,” Massman said. “You can’t compare third grade to third grade, but you can track a group. I’ve got this document that has 12 years of scores. I can see them in third grade, and I can look at them in fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, and so on. Okay, well, three kids move in, maybe five move out. You’re never really looking at the same population.”

This year, however, Massman will have back-to-back years she can compare. “If we’re scoring on the same standard, and we’re scoring low both years, there’s got to be something in our curriculum that we’re not hitting,” she explained. “We’re not getting to something; we’re not teaching this right. We’re not asking this question right of our kids. Our kids don’t understand this. We’re teaching it to this depth of knowledge, and we need to teach it to this depth of knowledge, making some changes there. So, that’s what we’re working on now — finding those holes. I met with each department, looked at data, and said okay, here are three or four things you can focus on now. Test scores are not the end-all, be-all; there’s so much more to teaching, but this is what the public sees and what we’re graded on.”

Evaluate testing is helping teachers provide more selective teaching. Students took a test at the beginning of the year to determine their knowledge level.

During even months, A Standards are tested, and B Standards are tested in odd months.

“You would hope that kids’ scores grow throughout the year,” said Massman. “When we start at the beginning of the year, and a parent sees the score come home that their kid only scored 37 percent, they’re going, ‘What happened?’ We have to remind them these are the third-grade standards we’re being tested on, and your kid hasn’t been taught these math standards, right? A 37 percent at the beginning of the year means they know 37 percent of the standards being taught. That’s really not a bad start in August to know some things.”

Massman added that this data gives teachers an idea of what students remember. “They know how to add three-digit plus three-digit numbers already, so we don’t have to spend a lot of time on that. But it also sometimes depends on how much effort kids put into those tests. Do you get a true reading each month on those? I believe we do from most kids. I don’t think all of our kids probably put in 100 percent effort on those at the same time. It would help us if they did because it gives us an idea of the holes we need to fill.”

Fatima uses incentives to motivate students. “There are random times where I’ll just drop in one month and any kid who scored over a certain percentage, I hand out a ‘skip the lunch line pass,’ or we’ll get drinks from Sonic or whatever. Teachers have incentives in their rooms, too. We try to do anything we can to get them to put forth that effort.”

These monthly tests are designed to ensure the curriculum prepares students for testing.

“If you’re giving them questions like those on the MAP or EOC every month, that’s one more way you’re helping prepare them for those tests,” said Massman. “And you’re giving them assignments that have questions that are like those on the tests.”

At times, several students will incorrectly answer a question, which raises several concerns.

“We’ve been going over this numerous times, but they’re still not understanding this,” she added. “Is it the way that question’s been worded? Am I not talking about it that way in class? So, going over that specific question, pulling it up on the board, and saying, hey, let’s go over this. Let’s talk about this. Also, if it was a multiple-choice question, which answer are they choosing? Are they all choosing the same one? Why are they choosing that? They’re choosing this one because it’s got something in it drawing them to it.”

Educators are teaching test-taking strategies and utilizing every possible tool to continue helping students improve.