July 17, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

USD 434 Santa Fe Trail administration won’t answer questions on declining student achievement

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State assessment scores at Santa Fe Trail USD 434 overwhelmingly lagged behind state averages this year, but despite repeated efforts by The Sentinel, Superintendent Faith Flory declined to comment on the results or a path forward to correct them. In an email exchange, the superintendent criticized our recent story, raising the question of whether USD 434 was violating state law by not conducting Building Needs Assessments in formulating budgets. We asked the superintendent for specifics on where she believes we erred in the story, but she did not respond.

2024 state assessment results for USD 434 and the state averageCurriculum Director Dr. Carrie Mugridge also did not respond to our request for comment on the results.

At the June 12th meeting of the board, Dr. Mugridge discussed the FastBridge student progress reports that are issued three times a year and later cited the most recent state assessment results.  She described both as having “pockets of greatness and pockets of growth,” but didn’t inform the board that student outcomes barely improved from the 2023 results, which were nearly all-time lows.

Also, Mugridge said the district’s goal is to be above the state average, noting that all but the 4th grade were below state averages.  She did not disclose that USD 434 had consistently been above state averages until 2022 but has since fallen behind.

She said she was optimistic that a new state assessment debuting in the 2024-2025 school year held hope for a turnaround in the numbers:

“I’m thinking it might be a positive thing for us. We get to just wipe it clean (from prior assessments). Start over. And grow.”

The Kansas Department of Education announced a new state assessment would debut after the Legislature approved the Kansas Blueprint for Literacy earlier this year.  The legislation sets state assessment improvement targets to go from 33% proficient in English language arts to 50% over the next ten years and from 33% below grade level to 10%.  KSDE contends it is uncertain whether the new assessment will be comparable to the current one and allow for the tracking intended in the Literacy Blueprint, but Mugridge seems to hope that past poor performance for the state and her district will not be possible.

USD 434 blames curriculum for low outcomes

In her presentation to the board, Dr. Mugridge alluded to the curriculum as a reason for the low assessment scores. Among the questions to her for which we did not receive a response was what role curriculum played in state assessments, and what responsibility she had as curriculum director for the choice of study.

Photo of Braden Anshutz courtesy of USD 434

Board Member Braden Anshutz expressed concerns to Dr. Mugridge during the June 12th meeting.

“State assessment scores were very disappointing across the board considering the amount of money and preparation time we have invested. The district recently adopted new curriculum that is tied to state standards, which makes the scores even more concerning.

“In my opinion, (Build Your Own Curriculum) allowing teachers to develop the curriculum ensures that community standards can be incorporated into the curriculum.  Teachers are the most important aspect in educating students, and they should be an integral part of the development of curriculum.”

The Sentinel also asked Flory and Mugridge to explain FastBridge reports included in board packets, but neither responded.

This incident with USD 434 is part of a pattern across the state where district officials describe student outcomes in somewhat generic terms but don’t give board members clear statements on proficiency levels.  Board members need to understand the magnitude of the challenges they face, like 28% of 10th-graders statewide are proficient in reading and only 18% in USD 434, to push district officials to act with urgency.

 

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