Our school has welcomed just over a hundred new students over the past two years. Many of them have come via our Pre-Kindergarten, but many have also transferred in from public schools. The interruptions of the COVID pandemic, which we only experienced here at a minimum level, have had a significant impact on schools everywhere, including those here in Chicago and in Illinois. We’ve heard, from many of the students who have come to MCA over these past two years, of significant gaps in mastering core subject objectives and making progress. So we expected to see some decline in our overall performance as a school on our measurement of average yearly progress.
Thankfully, the impact has been minimal. When students come to MCA, teachers engage in differentiated instruction that helps bring students up to grade level, particularly in math, language and reading skills. The traditional academic advantages that we offer, including small class sizes, parent engagement and involvement, and a range of best practices in instruction that are results oriented rather than attempts at the latest instructional fads, are the key to academic success.
How to Read Scores on an Iowa Test of Basic Skills
Parents will get a copy of their child’s test result. It will be in the form of a graph, and each bar will show the students’ stanine score with a number at the end of the bar indicating the percentile rank. It will be helpful to know what these scores mean. The Christian school organization to which we belong, the Association of Christian Schools International, and the National Catholic Education Association have put together a parent guide to the test which will help you understand the scores that you are reading. MCA, along with most other Christian, Catholic and religious based private schools, and preparatory academies, give a more advanced level of the ITBS, on which the norms are different from the regular test levels.
We do some additional calculation of our ITBS scores for our own benefit. One of the trends we see is that the longer a student remains at MCA after completing Kindergarten here, the higher their percentile ranks and stanines go in each succeeding grade level, in reading, ELA and mathematics. We were fortunate to get through the pandemic without major disruptions in our in-person learning. We have seen students entering our school from public schools that were significantly behind in their mastery of objectives at their age-appropriate grade level. We attribute much of this success to a phonics-based reading instructional program, and advanced ELA and mathematics curriculum, supported by high quality texts and instructional materials. It is also due to staff retention, the use of research driven best practices in instruction, avoiding a lot of the frivolities of what passes for “innovation” in education these days, and a strong commitment to expected student outcomes that are directly drawn from our biblical, Christian mission and purpose.
Where We “Knocked it Out of the Park“
Across the board, MCA’s scores in English Language Arts, which is tested on the ITBS as reading, vocabulary, word analysis, and language, which includes grammar, punctuation and written communication, were well above grade level. From Kindergarten to Eighth Grade, every grade level, as a whole, performed well above expectations with more than 83% of our students earning a score in the top two quarters for an overall percentile rank of 66% as a school, and a stanine average of 6.5. Because we have students entering Kindergarten who can read simple words, a majority of our students at every grade level are reading almost a full year ahead of expectations.
But the really noticeable high scores occurred in elementary mathematics. That’s right, in math. Five years ago, we made the decision to revamp the curriculum materials and the curriculum we used for math, and adopted the national maths standards, along with the use of Purposeful Design textbooks and materials, published by the Association of Christian Schools International. As a result, from Kindergarten to Fifth grade, our math scores have steadily improved, even through COVID. The lower grades achieved stanine scores in math computation skills averaging 7.2, with at least three grade levels showing an 8 stanine in computation facts, and percentile ranks in the 90’s.
Individual Student Scores
While class scores are good, you will notice wider differences in individual scores, especially as students get older and their interests are being shaped. It is not unusual to see students with high ELA scores, especially in reading, and lower scores in mathematics. That is one of the purposes of providing testing like this, to see student strengths and weaknesses and provide help to improve the weaker skills. Individual scores also tell us where a student needs to focus some remedial efforts.
At MCA, unlike many Christian grade schools, we require all our eighth grade students to master objectives for the high school Algebra 1 class. We don’t have the resources to split the class, so sixth grade math is ramped up to prepare for Pre-Algebra in grade 7, which in turn gets students ready for Algebra 1.
As you look at your child’s score, remember that almost anywhere their scores land on the bar graph, on the right hand side of the 25th percentile, or above a 3 stanine, is an indication that they are performing at their current grade level to which they are assigned and demonstrated on the test the ability to move on to the next grade. Also take into consideration the fact that some students aren’t good “test takers,” that this is a comprehensive achievement test and retention of knowledge from last September or October is difficult.
The Test Results are NOT the “Product” of a School
Test results are for analysis of curriculum and instruction and measuring student progress. They are not the “product” of a year’s worth of education. We have some expected outcomes for our students that represent the goals, or the “product”, of our work as a Christian school. These goals include spiritual development as well as academic progress toward developing critical thinking skills, as well as the writing, reading and math skills necessary to succeed at the high school level and open up a wider doorway to academic opportunities.
The test results are most helpful to individual students, showing us where their improvement can be targeted to help them develop necessary skills for academic success. We can look at specific skills development and help them overcome difficulties.
As a school, the expected student outcomes are much broader and wider in their scope.
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe and not according to Christ. Colossians 2:8, NRSV
For certain intruders have stolen in among you, people who long ago were designated for this condemnation as ungodly, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Jude v. 4, NRSV
The product of a Christian school is its expected student outcomes. And one of those, for MCA, is to graduate students who are able to discern, from God’s written word, truth from error. We hope they become a citizen of the Kingdom in all that they do.
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