Governor Tom Vilsack and the State Board of Education honored six Iowa schools today (Wednesday) for what he called “closing the achievement gap among low-income students.” Governor Vilsack presented the “Breaking Barriers to Learning and Teaching Awards.” The governor said it’s not pleasant but it’s necessary to admit Iowa has an “achievement gap.” Vilsack says people around the state should realize their kids, wehther in a targeted school or not, will be affected if the achievement gap isn’t improved, since federal education policy will respond in ways that affect all students. The governor gave the awards to Cedar Falls, Creston, Davenport, Le Mars, Saydel, and South Tama schools.Districts earned the award if they improved achievement among African American, Hispanic or low-income students by 20 percent or more, without letting any other group of students decline. The governor singled out districts for special praise. He notes Le Mars improved math achievement among low-income fourth-graders, saying if we’re to become a state transformed by bio-tech science, math skills are critical to success. Vilsack says SayDel improved math performance too, boosting skills important to a transformed Iowa economy. The Cedar Falls school district posted the biggest gains, improving reading achievement among low-income 11th graders by 35-and-a-half percent. Cedar Falls Superintendant Dan Smith in part credits the federal “no child left behind” legislation, because it forced school districts to consider more than just average test scores. Smith says historically scores have been high but if you leave out counting kids with low incomes or special needs, there’s a gap — so he’s glad to see school moving those kids closer to the others. Smith says Cedar Falls was able to improve reading scores by improving teacher training and holding one on one counseling sessions with students. He says No Child Left Behind made schools look at achievement in new ways. He says the classroom teachers deserve all the credit.
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