High school earns ‘commendable’ rating in first report from Iowa Education Department

By: Zuhayr Alam

The Iowa Department of Education released report cards on every school in the state last month. Schools are given an overall grade after careful analysis of seven sub categories. The subcategories are proficiency in reading and mathematics, closing the achievement gap between high and low earning students, annual growth in students, college and career readiness, graduation rate, attendance and staff retention. After taking these individual categories into consideration, the Iowa Department of Education gave schools one of six ratings: priority, needs improvement, acceptable, commendable, high-performing and exceptional.

Cedar Falls High School received a score of commendable and was very close to moving up to high performing, putting it in the top 15 percent of schools in the state.

Proficiency measures a school’s success at meeting minimal performance benchmarks in reading and mathematics. Cedar Falls High School has a proficiency rating of 92.5 percent, while the state average is a 79.3 percent.

Cedar Falls Community School District Superintendent Andy Pattee said he is proud of that rating.

“We look at it by going student by student, skill by skill,” Patee said. “When you look at the necessary skills, we make sure every kid has that, and that some students can excel further.”

Cedar Falls High School Principal Jason Wedgbury tries to keep the ratings in perspective.

“I took it as another data point,” Wedgbury said. “It’s just another report on which we can reflect. I didn’t get excited about it. I just accepted it as another data point.”

Closing the achievement gap is all about narrowing the performance gaps between children who are in the free lunch program, individualized education program and English learners program with the rest of the students in the school. On this note, Cedar Falls High School received a score of 54, while the state average is 50.

Annual expected growth is a measurement of how many students are learning a year’s worth of learning in one school year. At 40.7 percent, the high school finds itself well below the state average, which is 58.2 percent.

Patee is not too concerned with this statistic.

“For schools like this one with a high percentage of students taking advanced courses and scoring high on standardized tests, it is difficult to show yearly progress when so many students have reached the high school limit,” Pattee said. “That being said, we are looking at ways to make sure that every student in the school improves over the next few years.”

Wedgbury said that raising this category could be challenging for the school.

“I am yet to find a 4A school that is rated higher than CFHS,” Wedgbury said. “Our main area of improvement is growth. Our students score high for proficiency, which means that growth is hard. We need to focus on growth. We need to see how to take high achieving freshmen and push them even higher.”

College and career readiness indicates the proportion of students who are likely to see success in mathematics while attending college. Cedar Falls High School is at 61.7 percent, which is much higher than the state average of 39.1 percent.

Pattee still said he thinks that rating can improve.

“We have to focus in on more opportunities for the students and go deeper into some fields,” Pattee said. “This rating is looking at the ACT scores and ITBS. We can go further than that and look at our coursework and how it prepares students for college.”

In Cedar Falls, the high school has a 98 percent graduation rate, which is above the state average of 92.2 percent; it has an attendance rating at 94.4 percent, which is slightly below the state average of 95.5 percent; and it has a staff retention rating of 93.5 percent, while the state average is 86.3 percent.

Pattee praised the commendable rating that Cedar Falls High School received, and, as in other areas, said the district is working to improve on that in the future.

“We might actually be the highest performing 4A school in the state, with the schools in front of us in the rankings being significantly smaller, which can boost certain scores,” Patee said. “This is just another indicator that we will take into consideration when we plan for the future of the school district.”

Wedgbury is looking to improve on the commendable rating by changing the way that students learn.

“We need to continue to push critical thinking and problem solving over memorizing facts and figures,” Wedgbury said. “We want students to take those facts and apply them somewhere else. We may look to partner with some businesses in the community to give students the opportunity of high level work. Learning in the classroom is very different from learning hands on.”

Senior Andrew Nurse said that the school district can be even better.

“All my peers work hard to perform their best, and with our teachers, we really have the ability to be challenged at an exceptional level,” Nurse said. “It’s quite amazing what students at this high school can do, and I would expect the state to give us a fair rating relating to recent successes.”

Senior Ben Hertz agreed with Nurse.

“I like that the school district is working to improve on the commendable rating,” Hertz said. “While it is not bad by any stretch of the imagination, we could be better, and that would help future generations going through this school system.”

Other notable schools in the Cedar Falls School District are Hansen Elementary School and Peet Junior High. While all of the other school in the district received a commendable rating, Hansen and Peet received an exceptional and a high-performing, respectively.

Pattee said Hansen’s proficiency scores are the reason, as well as Peet’s outstanding staff retention.

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