GJSD report: Schools need to focus on reading

State ‘report card’ for GJSD shows progress is being made, but some areas need attention

Nicole Panton, Greater Johnstown School District coordinator of curriculum and professional development, outlines state "report card" figures for the Board of Education Thursday night at Johnstown High School. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — The Greater Johnstown School District is making reading a priority in the wake of the latest state “report card” figures on how students are doing.

Nicole Panton, district coordinator of curriculum and professional development, gave a presentation on student progress to the Board of Education Thursday night at Johnstown High School.

“This is looking at 2016-17 data,” she said.

She said newer figures won’t be released until mid to late-September. But she said there are basic areas the district can direct its students toward.

“We really need our kids investing themselves in books as much as possible,” Panton told the board.

The state issues “report cards” as a snapshot of where school districts across New York stand in certain curriculum areas. It also lists whether a district is considered “economically disadvantaged” and the impact of that on general school work.

Panton said the state records progress with numerical levels that stress Levels 3 and 4, but Level 2 is the main one to look at for Johnstown students. With English Language Arts, or ELA grades three to eight, she said Level 2 has been a good barometer for students eventually graduating from high school, which is a key progress goal.

“We are making progress as our kids are moving through,” Panton said.

She said the secondary students are doing well in ELA, adding: “We’re doing great things here in Johnstown.” Level 3 figures were at 28 percent and Level 4 at 18 percent.

“We need to go back to writing,” Panton said.

She said the district is trying to focus on reading strategies and trying to increase independent reading. She said the more kids read, the better they do in school. She showed a correlation between children reading 20 minutes a day and doing fairly well versus reading five minutes or less a day and doing much worse.

In the mathematics area, Panton used Algebra I testing to show Johnstown students were at 17 percent in the Level 1 area, but making a “huge jump” to 32 percent in Level 2, eventually recording 44 percent for the Level 3 category.

Areas of focus for the district, Panton said, need to be solving multi-step problems, mathematical practices, mathematics discourse with students and achieving a different “mindset,” especially for grades third through eighth.

“We have teachers actually digging into the data, especially at the Knox [Junior High School] level,” Panton said.

Panton said students have to be led in new directions with both reading and math.

“We need to be changing the way we talk to our students, especially about math,” Panton said. “Because it’s not OK not to be a math person.”

Moving forward, Panton said the district is now taking on computer-based testing as the norm. She said all district students in grades three to eight will be using computers to test in the next school year. She said teachers also will have better access to data.

“We had a very successful experience with that,” she said.

Panton said that for 2016-17, the Johnstown district had a 76 percent graduation rate, while the state “target rate” is 67 percent.

For the coming school year, Panton said the hope is to focus on areas such as: utilizing a new assessment system, innovation, and closely scutinizing “poverty and trauma” within the student population. She said staff needs to be aware of student issues on a “day-to-day basis.”

“Our demographics are changing,” Panton said.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.