EXPANDED VERSION: Toepke unhappy with MTHS report card process

DeWayne Bartels

EDITOR'S NOTE: In this story extra material is included not found in the print version. The new material is in italics.

Randy Toepke, in his first months as superintendent of Metamora Township High School, has faced some challenges.

Another just arrived.

MTHS recently received its 2011 Report Card from the Illinois State Board of Education. The school received a failing grade. MTHS failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal guidelines for No Child Left Behind. It was the second year in a row.

But, Toepke is not letting the grade get him down. He has an idea why scores were so low in reading and math on the standardized tests that determine whether a school passes or fails.

“They take one set of tests for one day and we get judged on that. It’s not fair,” Toepke said.

“Classes were back in school one day after vacation and they took the test. The question I have is: Were they back in the groove?”

Accurate?

Toepke said he agreed with Randy Crump, superintendent of the Eureka School District, who said it was a mistake to judge a school or district on the report card alone.

Toepke said this while questioning the accuracy of the state when it came to an item on the first page of the report card. The report card indicates average class size jumped from 19 in 2010 to 27.7 in 2011.

“We looked into that. The state has a formula which looks at core classes in second and fifth hours. We feel the number is 21 or 22 at most. Our feeling is the state’s number is inaccurate.”

Then, if one looks at the dropout rate for MTHS for 2011 there is 1.5 percent jump to 2.5 percent from 1 percent in 2011. Toepke said there is reason to question the accuracy of this information.

“I think the state has created a new way of creating the data in the report card. They are attempting to get an accurate picture,” Toepke said.

But, he said, accuracy may have been a casualty of this effort.

“What they have is a different way of gathering this information. It may not be comparing apples to apples,” Toepke said.

“In addition, we have (special education) students who can stay in high school until they are 22. If they stay in school and don’t graduate with their class it counts against us.”

“This one surprised us and we still do not buy in to the number the state is reporting. The state did send out notice that, ‘Starting this year, ISBE will collect graduation and drop-out rate from the Student Information System, so it is important to make sure the student exit codes are correct.’  We will be looking into graduation rate more closely, but we do wonder with the change in the way ISBE is now reporting graduation rate that they have all the bugs figured out yet. We do not feel it is an accurate percent.”

Troubling

While Toepke questions the accuracy of some numbers and the timing of testing he has to live with the numbers in the report card judging the academic ability of the student body.

Under No Child Left Behind 85 percent of the student body must meet or exceed the standards for the test.

The report card found MTHS students fell 16.3 percent short of the 85 percent goal in reading and 22 percent short in math.

Toepke said while scores fell overall in those two subjects the school saw  improvement in science. In comparison, he said, the state average fell in all three subjects.

“When looking at our PSAE scores, you will notice that the state went down in all three categories in reading, math and science. If you look at the average scores, Metamora went up or stayed even in all categories. The percentages shows a slight decrease in percentage in math, but reading and science both increased. We watch the trends, and the trends for Metamora shows that we are improving,” Toepke said.

“We hired three new math teachers this year. We have some bright new math teachers coming into the district. That in no way should be taken as a reflection on our current math staff,” Toepke said. “ We are not blaming any math teachers. We are looking for new ideas from outside.”

Toepke said he is scratching his head about the reading score decline.

“I don’t know what happened. We have a very good reading teacher,” he said.

Toepke said the administration is looking into further interventions in reading and math to complement the reading and math tutoring already in place for the past five years.

One of the efforts in that regard is the hiring of retired MTHS psychology and social studies teacher Greg Harrison as the student development coordinator.

“This position is responsible for managing RtI data by working with our feeder districts to coordinate successful interventions used in conjunction with incoming freshman, help develop Metamora High School’s RtI plan, and to gauge the effectiveness of our current programs,” Toepke said. “This position also watches over student transcripts, assists in managing the state assessments, assists in registration, and assists our Technology Director and Technology Integration Specialist as needed. RtI (Response to Intervention) is a multi tiered approach to the early identification and support of students with learning and behavior needs.

“Regarding the math scores dropping on the report card, though we dropped percentage wise in math, we had the same score as last year for average scores. This is an area we have been putting our efforts into. We have what we call Math Tutor Hall where we place students that are struggling in math for extra help.

“We have the data that supports success in the Math Tutor program. We do have a strong math department. One of our math teachers has been selected by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to train area high school teachers in the transition to the new Common Core State Standards.

“Regarding the reading scores, though the reading scores did not meet the state’s expectation of 85 percent meeting or exceeding, we have compared our reading scores of the tested class with the scores they received when they came in as freshmen. They actually ‘improved’ their reading scores higher than some previous classes. This is actually exactly what the state is looking for in the new Education Reform laws that they have recently passed. They are connecting the ‘growth’ of the students to the evaluation of teachers and principals. We are identifying students out of grade schools that do not meet our criteria of being a good reader and are teaching them reading strategies when they come in as freshmen.”

Toepke did not hesitate when asked if the low numbers meant MTHS is a failing school.

“We don’t believe that whatsoever. The report card has some validity,” Toepke said.

“No Child Left Behind was a good law in that it forced schools to find ways to help students who needed help. But, it was unrealistic in other ways.”

He added that what the federal government is doing with No Child Left Behind is comparing American schools to the rest of the world.

“What is not taken into account is that we still lead the world in creativity,” Toepke said. “The educational opportunities we offer at MTHS make for a well rounded person.”

“As I had mentioned about how NCLB was beginning to disintegrate and how the State of Illinois will be asking for a waiver from the federal government: The NCLB law was useful in the fact that all schools really began to look inside and develop

School Improvement Plans, but it was bad law in the fact that by 2014 all schools had to have 100 percent meet or exceed stamdards in math and reading. It is unrealistic to have that as a goal. In fact, here we are in 2011 and there are only eight high schools in the state (as reported by the Journal Star) that have met AYP,” Toepke said.

“There is no way you can make me believe that we are all failing schools. It is an injustice to schools that schools are graded on a single test on one day. When NCLB was instituted, Metamora High School’s goal was to be “The Last School Standing.” We made a go of it, but Dunlap was the only area school that can say they achieved that status. I am glad it was someone in our Mid Illini Conference.  

“We are proud of our school and what we offer for our students. Our goal is to develop well-rounded students and we achieve that with all that we offer at our school. We offer a good balance for our students. We have eight period days which allows us to offer more electives for our students. In order to graduate all our students take a minimum of four years of English, three years of math, three years of science, three years of social studies, two years of foreign language, one year of fine arts,  and one year of vocational education.  

“We offer four Project Lead the Way classes which is for our top math and science students and those interested in becoming engineers, and many other vocational classes such as: graphic arts, metals, welding, woods, auto mech, agriculture, Chef and Restaurant Class for those that may want those skills and for those that may go into a trade instead of going to college. We offer many extra curricular activities for our students. A new one this year is FIRST Robotics. The focus of First Robotics is on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. This is a worldwide event where students build a robot to contend in a competition game each year. We have several mentors from our community volunteering their expertise. We offer many fine arts and athletic opportunities.

“With NCLB going by the wayside, we are preparing for the transition to the Common Core State Standards and the new Education Reform law, SB 7. We have been sending administrators and teachers to academies and conferences to prepare for the future which is one of the biggest education reforms in many years. We will be prepared.”