Western Dubuque School Board members heard results of state testing from Director of Curriculum and Assessment Kelly Simon at the Sept. 13 board meeting.

While comparing grades from year to year, Simon cautioned the board that it would be difficult to compare years.

In 2019, the state of Iowa switched from using Iowa Assessments to the Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress (ISASP) tests. With no tests given due to COVID-19 in 2020, students didn’t take the ISASP tests again until spring 2021.

“For our students, this spring was only the second time taking it,” Simon told the board. “For grade levels third and fourth, it was their first time taking it. With all of that, it makes it difficult to make reasonable comparisons from year to year with two sets of data and a gap year in between those two sets.”

Third graders in the district showed an ELA (English, language arts, writing and reading) proficiency of 61%, a drop of 20% from third graders in 2019.

“Our third graders didn’t do well and we expected that,” Simon explained, saying the three months students were out of school due to COVID-19 impacted their reading. “I would argue the last three months of their first-grade year are the most pivotal in reading at grade level. So it was no secret, no shock that this is what we see.”

According to Simon, the low percentage is not something only Western Dubuque is seeing. “This is something being seen state-wide at third grade. Every report published is showing this.”

While the third-grade ELA is low by district standards, district third-graders scored 11% higher than the state average.

Simon called the impact on lower grades because of the testing switch and COVID-19 “significant.”

Grades five through 11 showed ELA percentages in the 80s, with a slight decrease in math scores.

Simon said what she is seeing with ELA scores at the lower levels and math scores in the mid to upper grades makes sense.

“Lower grade levels are learning to read rather than reading to learn, whereas in math in lower grades, they are building mathematical number sense and in mid to upper grades, skills are building. They very easily could have been tested in skill areas not yet learned.”

With the tests taken last April, Simon told the board the district didn’t begin to interpret results until they came back in late summer. “These are preliminary results, with none of that involving the student writing component. It’s fairly new data. We aren’t dismissing the data; we can still get important information from it.”