Amboy schools set high standards for students


Teachers report test data, suggest ways to improve student learning

AMBOY – Amboy school board members gained some insight into the realities facing teachers during the Nov. 14 board of education meeting. The meeting began with a report on STAR reading and math test scores for 2nd through 4th grade students presented by Central School teachers, Kathleen Russell, Title Reading, and Joanie Zimmerly, 2nd grade.

Russell said the STAR test is given at the beginning of the school year and again in October to show student growth in reading and math. While 2nd and 3rd grade showed adequate progress for the most part, both teachers expressed concern with 4th grade. “The 4th grade class has been a struggle ever since they were in kindergarten,” Russell said.

A big concern is the number of 4th graders that read way below grade level. Currently, 24 students in that class receive RtI reading intervention. Even with that help, Russell said a realistic goal is to bring them to a beginning 4th grade level by the time they go into 5th grade. “We have a lot of issues with these kids that we cannot control at school,” she told the board. “That is why we’re struggling with them.”

Russell emphasized that an important factor in helping students with reading is getting them to read at home with their parents. Equally important would be for children to attend preschool. Russell pointed out that Amboy has not had preschool for the past eight years and school readiness among kindergarteners keeps getting worse every year. “Each group of kindergarteners is coming in lower and lower and lower,” she said.

Central Principal Joyce Schamberger said the district does hold preschool screenings and services are offered for kids who “don’t make the cut” on the screening. “But there are 22 kids on the waiting list,” she noted. “We just need more services.”

Russell said there are 53 students in kindergarten this year and six of them began the year unable to color or cut and they did not know their letters or sounds. “We have been pulling any able body to try to help those kids,” she commented. “Parents just think it’s our job, they don’t realize it’s a team effort. And many kids didn’t even come to the screening.”

Of the 46 first grade students, 14 receive RtI (intervention) and five have an IEP (Individualized Education Program). Russell said 10 of those students seriously struggle with reading. “I would consider them non-readers - they still don’t know their letters and sounds - it’s rough,” she said. “That’s what I’m working on with them and I wanted you to be aware of those numbers.”

On a more positive note, the test data for math showed good growth in all three grades, even 4th grade. Additionally, Russell acknowledged that the Amboy School District has set very high standards. Comparing transfer students who came to Amboy from other districts was a reminder of the high expectations that have been set in contrast to places such as Dixon and Rockford. “Our standards are so much higher and I’m proud to say that,” she admitted. “No matter where students come from, our standards are way higher.”

At Amboy Junior High, test results were also a mixed bag. Yvonne Vicks, who teaches 8th grade English/language arts, and Shauna Dinges, 5th/6th grade advanced math and 7th grade math teacher, reported on test scores for 5th-8th grades.

Both 5th grade and 6th grade showed growth in reading and math but both teachers expressed concerns with 7th grade. Vicks said the 7th grade class started the school year below grade level in reading and although the class score rose slightly, it is still lower than it should be.

In math, the class is closer to grade level, but Dinges said 7th grade is very divided with many of them very advanced and many far behind. “There aren’t very many in the middle, which causes a lot of problems,” she told the board.

Overall, test data showed that 63 percent of the 7th graders are at least one grade level below where they should be. Board member Katie Pratt, who has a child in 7th grade, responded by asking the teachers what could be done and commenting, “That’s not acceptable.”

Dinges said one possible answer would be to implement math RtI at Central, so students are not so far behind when they reach junior high. She explained that each year, the gap keeps getting bigger because there is too much to make up. “I have kids testing at 3rd and 4th grade levels in 7th grade but I’m expected to teach them 7th grade math,” she said. “That’s a huge gap. I have to fill a lot of holes for them to even conceptually understand 7th grade math.”

To help students gain some ground in math, this year the junior high started doing math RtI in 7th grade. Students who are the furthest behind in math get extra help every day for 30 minutes. “They are so thankful that they get the extra time because they’re just slow processors,” Dinges said. “It’s not that they can’t do math, it’s that we don’t give them enough time to process and they need more one on one like they have with reading.”

Vicks also noted that in researching data from the past 10 years, the scores for 7th grade have gone down every year. “For whatever reason, there’s always a dip in 7th grade - always,” she said. “Everybody is doing good and then - I don’t know if it’s the hormones, there’s so much going on with them.”

Describing herself as a “big motivator,” Dinges said she uses a chart on the wall of her classroom that shows student growth. “You wouldn’t think 7th graders would be that impressed but they like having their name up on the wall. That is a big deal in my room,” she said. “They earn growth tickets for tests, quizzes and STAR tests and they’re proud of those.”

Dinges stressed to the board the importance of math for today’s students and explained why the term “not a math person” should never be used. “Emerging jobs are in math and science, so you better not go to a job interview and say you’re not a math person,” she emphasized. “We’ve got to change that mindset and teachers need to push the positive math talk. In a world environment, we’re all fighting for jobs globally.”

Dinges also pointed out that study after study shows that everyone can be a math person. Some people have to work at it longer than others, but everyone can do it if they are willing to put in the time.

As for the effect Personalized Learning will have on test scores, Dinges said she has to be very careful of how it is used for math especially for students who need to catch up. “We’re still in the beginning of self paced,” she commented. “We’re still learning how to do this.”

Vicks said after making some adjustments, she is using Personalized Learning in her classes again this year. “Two class periods are doing very well with it but there is one class that can’t do it, they struggle too much,” she said.  

Superintendent Jeff Thake pointed out that an important aspect of Personalized Learning is listening to students. In surveys Amboy students have taken, some say they prefer a more traditional learning environment while others prefer self paced, both of which the district wants to accommodate.

With statewide changes in testing last year from ACT to SAT at the high school level, Principal Joshua Nichols said they now have baseline scores and will use the SAT data to determine how to proceed. In a ranking of SAT test scores among the 715 high schools in Illinois, Nichols said AHS placed in the top half at 352.

Nichols also discussed the high school’s “fail list,” explaining that students who are failing in one subject are able to go to the auditorium for a 20-minute resource period every day, where two teachers are available to offer help. On the positive side, he noted that student attendance is between 92 and 95 percent, which is above the state average.

PRINCIPALS’ REPORTS

Principal Joshua Nichols, Amboy High School, congratulated November Student of the Month Reece Vaessen.

* During recent School Improvement days, teachers and paraprofessionals were able to work with their personalized learning and department peers and work on implementing tech and curriculum in their classrooms. They also attended workshops on Google Documents and Screencastify.

* Ninth graders took the PSAT on Nov. 19.

* Nichols attended a National Association of Secondary Principals legal update webinar on Oct. 25, the Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center school safety webinar on Nov. 1, and the Illinois State Board of Education Evidence-Based School Funding webinar on Nov. 2.

* Mrs. Cleary attended an ROE workshop on TAB: Teaching for Artistic Behavior on Nov. 8.

* Janet Crownhart, one of the co-math instructional leaders, has traveled to math classrooms at all three schools and reported findings at the Teacher Leader and Personalized Learning meetings.

* Elizabeth Zinke attended a Crisis Prevention Intervention training hosted by the Ogle County Education Cooperative

School Activities

* Spanish Honor Society hosted a movie night Oct. 24 to view the movie “Book of Life.” The next movie night will be Nov. 28 featuring “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

* FFA students helped the fire department with their presentation at Central School on Nov. 3.

* On Nov. 3, the Spanish Honor Society hosted a Red Cross blood drive at AHS. Because of the turnout, SHS will be able to award two scholarships at the end of the year.

* The district’s Veteran’s Day Assembly was held Nov. 10 in the gym.

* Nichols congratulated all fall sports teams on their successful seasons.

* On Oct. 7, nine AHS band and chorus students auditioned in Rockford for placement in the IMEA Honors Band and Chorus, competing with students from all of northwestern Illinois. Kaitlyn Ortgiesen was selected to play in the District 8 Senior Honors Band. Sydney Friel, Evelyn Curl and Cameron Simpson were selected for the Senior Honors Chorus. Gabby Ketchum was selected for the Junior Mixed Chorus. Both concerts were held on Nov. 18.

* The fall play, “Peter Pan” was presented on Friday evening, Nov. 17 and on Sunday, Nov. 19 there were shows at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Principal Joyce Schamberger, Amboy Junior High and Central Elementary, said Yoda Students of the Week were recognized and given certificates during an assembly at Central School on Nov. 13. AJHS will have their all-school assembly on Monday, Nov. 27. Students of the Month for each grade level will be recognized and teachers will hand out certificates to students who embodied the character trait of “Good Manners.” The Speech Team will also receive their awards and perform their acts for the student body, 1st Quarter Honor Roll Certificates will be handed out and a friendly competition between classes and teachers will take place.

School Activities

* All students attended the Veteran’s Day program on Nov. 10 along with veterans from the Amboy Nursing Home. Amboy American Legion Post 453 participated in the program and music was provided by students.

* The 7th grade class won Best Attendance Percentage for October with 97.69 percent. The Jr. High PTC furnished an afternoon snack for the students prepared by Toni Fassig and kitchen helpers. Central School PTC is also rewarding grade level best attendance. The 3rd grade won for October with 97.60 percent. They will receive a snack paid for by the Central PTC.

* Boy’s basketball teams are being coached by Andrew Full and Jeff Christofferson.

* AJHS Student Council will oversee a canned food drive that begins after Thanksgiving. The Amboy Fire Department will pick up the canned goods.

OTHER BUSINESS

Approval was given to the district’s tentative tax levy, following a presentation given by Thake. He also reported that the first installment of the 1 percent sales tax, $28,320, was received from Lee County this month. The district will continue receiving sales tax payments each month for the coming year.

A new school board member, Nathan Hummel, was seated. Hummel is taking the place of Brian Fox who recently resigned from the board.

A three-year proposal from Republic Services of Dixon for waste removal and recycling services (Dec. 1-Nov. 30, 2020) was approved by the board.

PERSONNEL

Following closed session, the board hired Jennifer Gazza as paraprofessional at Amboy Junior High School and Jo Ann Smith as bus driver, both effective Nov. 20. Braxton Stamm was approved as freshman boys’ basketball coach and Brian Appleman as freshman/sophomore wrestling coach, both for the 2017-18 school year.

The next regular meeting and a tax levy hearing will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 14 at Amboy High School.

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