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Charles City School Superintendent Fisher talks about test scores, building improvements

Charles City School Superintendent Fisher talks about test scores, building improvements
Charles City Superintendent of Schools Mike Fisher spoke with Lions Club members Friday at their weekly lunch meeting at the Floyd County Historical Museum. Among many other topics, Fisher talked about recent test scores and needed facilities improvements at the high school. (Press photo James Grob.)
By James Grob,

Charles City School District Superintendent Mike Fisher said that recent test results that showed Charles City students scoring below the state average are “absolutely unacceptable.”

“I’m not happy with them (the test scores),” Fisher told a group of local Lions Club members at their weekly lunch meeting on Friday. “As I’ve said, and as I’ve told the school board, we have not had enough conversations at the policy, governance and leadership levels about teaching and learning.”

Fisher told the group that the district is addressing the issue and implementing a plan of action that will improve the test scores in particular and overall academic achievement in Charles City in general.

“I’ve made it really clear — buildings, bricks and mortars are important — but what’s really important is what’s happening in those buildings,” Fisher said. “I will assure you when I come back here in a year that we will have better news to report in terms of those test scores.”

More information about the recent results of the Iowa Statewide Assessment of School Progress (ISASP) will be presented at tonight’s (Monday) school board meeting, scheduled for 6:15 p.m. at Washington Elementary School.

Middle School Associate Principal Tom Harskamp and Lincoln Elementary Principal Marcia DeVore, among others, will speak to the board and the public regarding the tests.

Fisher will also lead a training session on vision and mission at tonight’s meeting, and provide an update on the district’s strategic goal progress.

Results of the ISASP tests determined Charles City students, at all grade levels, scored below the state average in every subject. While Fisher said those results were not acceptable, he also said that they weren’t a complete surprise.

“We knew coming in to the tests, we have a lot of work to do in teaching and learning academics,” he told the Lions Club. “We also knew it was a new test this year. The online test platform threw a lot of our kids off. We’re going to better prepare our kids for that.”

This was the first year students across Iowa have taken the ISASP, which has replaced the Iowa Assessments as the accountability tests for all students in the state. The test was developed by Iowa Testing Programs at the University of Iowa and tests students based on English-language arts, math and science. The tests were taken in the spring of 2019.

ISASP’s English and math tests were administered in every grade starting with third graders and ending with juniors in high school, while science was tested for fifth graders, eighth graders and high school sophomores.

“This test is online — it’s a computer test, and it’s hard,” Fisher said. “I’ve taken it, and we’ve run a few math questions past some engineers, and they’re difficult questions.”

Fisher said that was a good thing — assessments should be difficult.

“Life is tough, and our students need difficult tasks in front of them,” he said. “That means we need to up our game — our teachers need to up their game and our kids need to up their game.”

Fisher said that although test scores are very important, they are only one measure of student performance and are just one of many factors to consider when assessing the overall health and success of a school district.

“We have work to do, but tests are not the only measure for us. We have multiple measures,” Fisher said. “We’re working on communicating those measures to you. Our kids are more than test scores, they’re human beings.”

Fisher said that Charles City is doing “cutting edge things” with math and literacy, and is one of the cutting edge districts in terms of administrative observations and feedback.

“I go into every teacher’s classroom in the district once a week,” he said. “We give them feedback, and we also tell them that what they do is important. We don’t want to be sitting on our butts in an office as principals and leaders, we want to be out where the magic happens, communicating to our people.”

Fisher said the administration is in tune with teaching and learning in the district.

“We know we have to make improvements,” he said. “We have a really passionate strategy we’re working on, which involves student engagement, student leadership and equity.”

Also at tonight’s meeting, Fisher will present a proposed engagement plan that will work with community and stakeholders to gather information and input for future facilities strategic planning.

Fisher told directors at a school board work session in December that he will recommend the board initiate a communication plan to the community, regarding facilities improvements at the high school.

“We have to do something with the high school. It has a roof that leaks, it has asbestos everywhere and it’s not secure,” Fisher told the Lions Friday. “Whether it’s renovations, or something new, we want to listen to the community, because it’s the community that has to pay for it.”

A recent communitywide survey requested the input of school district residents to help determine how the district can best address its capacity and facility challenges. The survey showed that public awareness of needed facility improvements has decreased, and public appetite for another bond issue has gone down in the last year.

Fisher has said that he wants to open up a communitywide dialogue to get information out to the public.

“We went about 18 months and didn’t talk about it, and that was intentional,” Fisher said. “We had talked about facilities too much in our community, and we needed to refocus on teaching and learning.”

Fisher has said that he believes something needs to be done regarding a bond issue in the next 18 months. That would leave three possible dates for getting a bond issue on the public ballot — March and September of 2020 and March of 2021. Fisher said that people are in doubt, and need to have a say in the matter, and have their questions answered.

“We are all ears,” he said Friday. “We have no plans yet. We just want to hear what everyone wants to say.”