By Mike De Felice
Special to Kitsap Daily News
PORT ORCHARD – South Kitsap School District board members voted at last week’s school board meeting to have the district’s teachers focus on improving student math skills.
District-wide, 51% of students are meeting state standards in math skills, according to Superintendent Tim Winter. The state average is 48%, he added.
Winter presented a survey of 18 school districts across the state comparing their state assessment scores in various course subjects. The districts were selected to represent a cross-section of students in the state that their peers in South Kitsap will compete with for jobs, college admission and scholarships, Winter explained.
Issaquah School District scored highest on the survey with 76% of students meeting state standards in math. Vancouver ranked lowest with 42%.
“Hopefully, what we will be able to do is look at this data and establish some targets that we would like to meet by the end of 2025,” Winter said.
The board passed a motion by Liz Sebren that educators aim to raise the percentage of students meeting state assessment scores to 75% by 2025.
Prior to the vote, board member John Berg said he believed the board should be looking at how students are doing in other areas, too, including English language arts and science.
“I hate to be accused of voting against ‘apple pie,’ but I think it would be premature to make this specific decision at this time without looking at the whole picture,” Berg said. “I would prefer to delay this until we are looking at the whole picture and we can set a number of targets rather than doing it in a piecemeal fashion. So, I oppose the motion on that basis.”
Other members believed improving student skills in mathematics now is sufficient and emphasizing goals for other subjects can be implemented later.
“This is a good place to start,” Sebren said. “This is the first step to give a target to the district and all the professionals we have hired including our teachers.”
Board President Eric Gattenby agreed that action should be taken now to improve math skills.
“We have some quantitative data showing something going on in math. We know we need to turn the ship north maybe to 70, 75 or 80%,” Gattenby said.
The superintendent indicated that once a determination is made to improve math skills, increased funding will need to be allocated for that to occur.
Berg cautioned that it is important the district looks closer at what districts South Kitsap students are being measured against: “I just pulled up Mercer Island School District [statistics]; they are at 81% in math, but have 4% low-income [students] and we have 33% low-income. So, we need to look at where to focus and not necessarily compare ourselves with a district that has completely different demographics,” Berg said.
Mercer Island was not among the 15 schools in the survey presented by the superintendent. Winter indicated that testing targets for other course subjects will be examined at future board meetings.
Next school year
The superintendent also discussed his hopes for the next school year.
“We are hoping to be back full-time in the fall. Certainly, we will have to follow COVID safety protocols. The piece that is important is that we have a remote learning option for students,” he said.
“We want to focus on those students that were successful in remote this year. The worry is that a student or a family will say they want to stay remote even though [the student] never showed up and was not doing well academically.”
The next step in formulating a plan for the upcoming year is to determine the interest of teachers in continuing remote learning in some fashion and then assess the interest level of families in virtual education, Winter said.
He cautioned that whatever the plan school administration formulates, other factors could interfere with it.
“We may say ‘our plan is …’ but there are going to be a lot of factors to deal with – the Department of Health, OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction), the governor — that we have zero control over.
“We are going to have to continue to be adaptable,” Winter said.