School leaders and community partners took a run at improving test scores over time last week when they traveled to early learning centers throughout the state in the hope of establishing such a center for Baker students.

Superintendent Mark Witty noted that the District’s 2018-19 test scores, released recently by the state Department of Education, showed improvement in both English/language arts and math.

“Growth across all grades came in at 2.9% for ELA (English/language arts) and 1.2% for math,” Witty stated in the release.

And compared with state results, 56.2% met state benchmarks in ELA, compared to a 54.9% state average. In math, however, 35.3% of Baker students met benchmarks, compared to a 39.4% state average.

“The District is continuing to invest in new strategies to improve student achievement in mathematics,” Witty said. “This year we hired a math tutor to work with Baker High School students needing additional support.”

Witty noted that Baker Web Academy and Baker Early College showed improved participation rates for 2018-19. The District’s state report card will reflect lower achievement ratings based on areas where participation drops below state benchmarks, however.

Participation rates for other Baker schools remain at or above the state benchmark across other grade levels, Witty said.

In a recent review of the Smarter Balanced student test scores, Assistant Superintendent Betty Palmer said work to provide consistent training for the community’s youngest children will help improve not only test scores, but also graduation rates.

While students continue to show improvement, a break-down of test score results shows that students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches consistently score about 13 percentage points lower than their counterparts across the board, Palmer said.

“And two-thirds of the population, especially at the elementary level, fall into that category,” Palmer said.

“Across the bar that’s what you see,” Palmer said of the drop for children in the lower socioeconomic category.

By the 11th grade the gap is beginning to narrow, to about an 11% difference between the low-income and those living at the middle income levels and higher.

In addition to the math tutor added this year, Palmer points to the Friday Academy classes aimed at keeping students in school for at least half a day Fridays to extend their four-day week schedule. The instruction is aimed at engaging students with hands-on activities when possible.

That’s the same philosophy behind the Summer Academy classes and other opportunities made available to students throughout the year.

“We do things that keep building enrichment — things that will raise the tide for all kids,” Palmer said.

Haines and Keating elementary students performed well as usual on the tests, although no report was made for Keating because of the small number of students who attend the rural school, Palmer said.

Preschool is offered at Haines, where 10 to 15 students attend yearly, and Keating serves one to five preschool students per year, she said.

Baker is looking at expanding a similar program to city schools at the former North Baker School building. It currently is home to Baker Web Academy, Baker Early College, Eagle Cap Innovative High School, and a new alternative school program, in addition to other early childhood programs.

Student Success Act funding approved by the 2019 Legislature will be used to pay for the expansion, she said.

While preschoolers are not necessarily beginning to learn letters and numbers, what they do receive is instruction in how to get along with others, Palmer said.

“The biggest component is social interaction, working in a group and following directions,” she said.

Those who don’t learn those early skills have difficulty catching up as they progress through school, she said.

“It keeps them behind the curve for learning and interrupts the learning of those around them,” Palmer said. “A large percentage can significantly impact what the growth is toward reading, math and writing across the board.”

A group of District administrators, agency partners and other interested community members traveled to early learning centers throughout the state to glean ideas about how to implement such a center in the Baker School District.

The center would include services such as early intervention for young children with special needs, special education for ages 2 to 5 and prekindergarten.

Adequate child care is another need in the community and the District is considering at a minimum making that service available to its own staff to start with, Palmer said.

“A lot of dominoes would have to fall into place,” she said.

After providing child care for staff, the District next would look at providing relief child care for families in emergency situations or special circumstances, such as those working varied shifts at area companies.

The District is helping sponsor a free screening of the film “No Small Matter” about the need for high quality early care and education for children. The film will be shown on Nov. 7 at the Churchill School Theater, 3451 Broadway St. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. and the film will be shown at 6 p.m.

To sign up for free child care, call 541-523-2696. Tacos will be sold at the event.

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