Linn R-2 in top 14% of schools on APR

By Neal A. Johnson, UD Editor
Posted 12/27/23

LINN   — Linn R-2 Superintendent Bob James is pleased with where the district placed in this year’s Annual Performance Report (APR) but acknowledges there is still work to do.

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Linn R-2 in top 14% of schools on APR


LINN  — Linn R-2 Superintendent Bob James is pleased with where the district placed in this year’s Annual Performance Report (APR) but acknowledges there is still work to do.

James explained that 558 schools earned a score on the APR, but he wanted to look at only those who graduate students in a K-12 setting. Using that metric, Linn R-2 was 64th among 464 districts or the top 13.79% in the state.

“I didn’t think that was too bad,” said James, noting the district improved 2.5%, from 82.3 to 84.8 on the overall score.

Linn earned 107.5 of 136 points for performance as a district, compared to 79.8% last year, and 100% on continuous improvement, a jump of 12.5% over last year.

One of the significant differences between Missouri School Improvement Plan 5 (MSIP) and MSIP 6 is the state’s review of continuous improvement. “Essentially, your kids are going to score somewhere,” James added. “If you’re not satisfied with where students are scoring, what are you doing about it to get a continuous effort score? We did well; some kids are not scoring where I would want them to, but we’re scoring above the state average in several areas. I honestly believe after 20-some-odd years in the business, I have kids fully capable of scoring well above the state average on standardized tests. I 100% believe that if we’re not kicking the tail off it, I don’t know what we’re doing because we have great kids and a great community. I’m not just saying that because I’m the superintendent; that is my practical measure of the landscape and our potential. We should be knocking it out of the park, and we will. We did score 100% of our continuous improvement, which I’m thrilled with.”

Linn scored 79% on performance. “We’re in the hunt,” said James. “That is my way of saying we’re really close to where we want to be, and I think we can get there.”

Linn R-2 earned seven of eight points on continuous improvement at the high school level, compared to four of eight last year. “Mrs. Sassmann is taking a look at that,” said James. “I’m a bottoms-up leader, so we’ll celebrate what we’re doing well and continue to tweak.”

More importantly, James wants to look at what the district is doing the worst and work to improve from the bottom up. The superintendent plans to review the high school’s continuous improvement score of 87.5 and a performance score of 82.4, a drop of almost six points from last year to this year. “Last year was somebody else’s data by the time you get the grades,” said James of the 2022 scores reflecting 2021 tests.

James and his staff will review MSIP 5 scores and compare them with MSIP 6 data. Last year, MSIP 5 was a pilot for version six. A comparison of the scores between the beta version and this year’s full-fledged iteration shows Linn R-2 dropped 5.9%, from 88.6% to 88.2%. The district earned 117.5 of 142 points this year, compared to 117 of 132 last year.

“I’m not as concerned about the drop because all things can be fixed,” said James, adding now it’s a matter of ascertaining where things went sideways. “Where did our kids score? Where did they not score? There’s nowhere to go but up, and I think Mrs. Sassmann and our teachers are doing a great job.”

On the elementary side, Linn improved by 14.5 points. “That sounds good at face value,” said James. “I’d love to tell you it means we’re doing everything right. I don’t think a 5.9% drop means we’re doing everything wrong or worse, either. To stay fair and balanced, we don’t know if that indicates a large leap forward. I’m an optimist. I believe in kids and teachers. I think we’re doing better. At the same time, we want to know why we’re doing better. I think that’s important because we want to replicate the success. If something’s working, we must figure out what’s working well for the kids and how to move them forward. I’m very proud on the elementary side.”

Linn scored 100% (8-8) on continuous improvement. “I’m a continuous improvement guy,” said James. “If we were 99% across the board, I would only talk to you about getting to 99.1%. It’s just the way I’m geared. I would be looking at what took points away, not what got us to 99%. I would just be looking at where we scored the worst and what we can do about it.”

This year, Linn Elementary scored 60.7% in performance, which led to an overall 64.5% rating. “That’s nowhere near where we’ll end up,” said James. “In the next several years, Miss Higginbotham and her staff will do some great things.”

Last year, the district scored 44.7% on performance but maxed out on continuous improvement. All told, the school collected 42 of 84 points or 50%; this year, Linn scored 54.2 of 84 points for a 14.5% improvement.

James plans to take a deep dive into the data. “We’re pulling a lot of small groups this year that we haven’t necessarily done before,” he added, noting there’s something called the Student Success Initiative, the newest version of Response to Intervention. “That’s a fancy way of saying, ‘When a student doesn’t get it, what do you do about it? Or do you just go, oh, well, Bob, he failed that one; I hope he does better next time.’ Where do you come back and say, ‘Hey, Bobby, let’s take a look at your work.’”

A big question is whether students get the material. “Is this a concept-driven problem students are having or a process-driven problem? Do they understand the concept of abstract variables and algebraic equations?

James said in some cases, students may be rushing, or perhaps there was a slight problem with the details. Yet another example is the state changing how questions are asked on the test from one year to the next.

“Sometimes, it’s just a curriculum, assessment, or alignment thing,” said James. “We’re going to look at where we did well and didn’t do well; those are all deep-dive things. If I had one thing on my Christmas list for our new education commissioner here in Missouri, it would be a timely and relevant data package that includes an item analysis. I know that that’s maybe not a common thing for the public.”

Most parents are content to know their student scored proficient or advanced on the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) test.

However, James wants to know precisely where answers eluded students. He noted there are 37 biology standards, and if 55% of students scored proficient or advanced, the common thought is that most of the class did well.

That’s not enough for the superintendent. “I know that little more than half of my kids got that well, but I don’t know what they didn’t do well,” said James. “I don’t know if it was cellular biology if it had something to do with ecosystems, the chemistry, or maybe even the physical science aspects. I have no idea. I know that 55% of them were able to do it.”

An item analysis breaks down by each of those standards and tells district staff that 55% of your kids did well in cellular biology. “That means 45% didn’t get it, and that might be a low spot, but if 94% of our kids did well on ecosystems, then I’m looking at the 11-day unit on ecosystems and the 13-day unit on cellular biology, and I’m making this one 10 days, and I’m making that one 14 days. Then, I’m going to look at the entire unit and the format of the questions on the state assessment. Are we teaching the same depth of knowledge? And here’s a great example of the depth of knowledge. If you ask an English student which century these three authors lived and wrote in, that’s one level. That’s a lower level. If you say, ‘Here are three authors and the centuries they lived. Which one of the answers below signifies the greatest or the highest probable impact of those three authors on today’s literature?’ That is a high-depth of knowledge question. There are state assessment tests somewhere between rote memorization and analysis and evaluation. What we’re looking to do with an item analysis is understand at what level the state would like to see our students perform. We don’t get that in Missouri.

“Maybe it’s just how we presented the material,” James continued. “Maybe it’s formatting or reading comprehension. The important part is that we get a level of data that allows us to act efficiently on our curriculum, instruction, and assessment. That, more than anything, is a tool that I felt Texas gave me as an educational leader to effectively adjust instruction for students so they can be successful. After that, it’s whether or not you’re hardworking enough to do it. I believe we are, but we’re shooting in the dark right now. We’ll get there, but I think we did pretty well.”

James is especially pleased that Linn R-2 is competitive with Chamois R-1 and Fatima R-3. “I take pride in that because I know those are two good schools,” he added.

Fatima scored 81.2, and Chamois was at 79.5; a look at their data will appear in an upcoming issue of the UD.