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Houghton-Portage Township teachers review MTSS program

Houghton-Portage Township Schools teachers, including Traci Welch, Mollie Trewartha and Sara Rutz, give a presentation on the district’s Multi-Tiered Systems of Support program during the district’s board meeting Monday. (Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — Faculty members gave the latest Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) presentation at Monday’s Houghton-Portage Township Schools board meeting.

The MTSS system is focused on promoting academic success and positive behaviors, said MTSS team member Traci Welch, a high school social studies teacher. The three-tiered system is represented by a pyramid, with students on the top needing the most support.

The district’s accomplishments have been recognized statewide. In January, the district team received a gold award from the state’s MTSS committee.

The elementary staff uses Acadience benchmark testing, previously known as DIBELS, for reading skills; reading and math tests at the middle school use FastBridge.

For behavior, staff looks at major behaviors entered into the school wide information system. Major behaviors can consist of something that results in a student being sent or reported to the office, as well as minor behaviors repeated frequently.

Students are starting to rebound from disruptions to learning during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal is to have at least 80% of students in Tier 1 — representing universal instruction, or the classroom education all students receive. In 2018-19, the last full school year before the pandemic, Acadience scores showed students entered the year already at the 80% benchmark, rising to 87% by May, said Sara Rutz, computer teacher at Houghton Elementary School.

That dipped as low as 71% in fall 2020, returning to 80% by the end of the year. This school year started at 73% in the fall, reaching 79% in May.

Some students still need to complete the testing, which could raise scores to 80%, Rutz said. This year was also the first in which Young Five students were included in the elementary results.

Boxes are already arriving at the elementary school for the school’s new reading series, which students will start using in the fall.

“That’s going to give our grade levels a chance to kind of regroup, refocus, make sure anything that’s kind of not been as tight as it should be gets back together as we jump into a new reading series next year,” Rutz said.

“We’re heading in the right direction,” she said. “We’re not fully there yet.”

Behavior-wise, students had fared well, Rutz said. The percentage of students with no or one office referral was at 96.2% in 2021-22, compared with 95.61% in 2018-19.

One pilot project is a quiet room for major referrals. During recess, students would go to a teacher’s room to fill out sheets reflecting on their behavior, and talk with a teacher about a restorative process.

Middle-school students use FastBridge, a computer-based test, for math and reading. The tests are adaptive, ratcheting up the difficulty when students perform well.

This year, the percentage of students at or above benchmark in reading increased throughout the school year for all three grade levels, ending up at 92% in sixth grade, 85% in seventh and 79% in eighth. In math, the percentage improved in sixth and seventh grades while remaining level for eighth grade.

Behavior levels remained high throughout. The percentage of students with no or one referral was between 96% and 99% for all points throughout the first three quarters of the past four years (spring 2020, where all schools were virtual, was skipped).

Attendance numbers stayed high during 2020-21 due to relaxing of what could be counted. This year, those numbers have dropped. Largely due to COVID and quarantines, only 48% of students in the second quarter attended at least 90% of the time, according to Mollie Trewartha, a math teacher at the middle school. That percentage rebounded to 79% of students in the third quarter.

Academic performance stayed strong even during the second quarter, Trewartha said. She attributed that to students’ improved access to the curriculum through Google Classroom, which allows students who are out sick to see what their class did that day or watch a video related to the topic.

“Even my own children have been out way more than I would have liked this school year, but we’re still moving forward, making gains,” she said.

Similar attendance problems were seen at the high school, said resource room teahcer Anna Bradfish. As of the third quarter, 81% of high school students were on track with their core courses, compared to 80% three years ago. The 90% of students on track with GPA was also up from 86% in 2018-19.

For 2022-23, teachers are looking at strategies in teaching children how to read for information. One of the reading comprehension methods will be SQ3R: survey, question, read, recite, and review.

Reading comprehension has dipped among students, something multiple teachers noticed. COVID played a part, but they thought it may be due to the growing use of technology and a move away from longer-form reading.

“While we’re trying to get them all the information and get them, like kind of caught up in their homework they need to pass, we’re not addressing their lifelong problem, which is if you can’t read, how are you going to access information when you don’t have a teacher trying to help pull you along?” Bradfish said.

The problem is not specific to Houghton, Welch said. When she started teaching 25 years ago, she said, she would give students assignments to read on their own. She no longer feels comfortable doing that.

“I feel like I almost always have to take the reading handed out to everybody and read it along with them, break it down piece by piece, ask them questions, go through it,” she said.

Trewartha said teachers are looking at adapting their instruction in areas such as science, history or math to teach more reading skills.

In other action, the board:

– Heard from Superintendent Anders Hill that the high school ranks 34th in the state of about 1,150 in U.S. News & World Report’s latest rankings. It is the only school in the top 100 from the Upper Peninsula. The district also had the top-ranked elementary school in the U.P.

– Approved the Copper Country Intermediate School District’s proposed budget for 2022-23.

– Scheduled a public hearing to present the 2022-23 district budget at 5:45 p.m. June 20.

– Approved hiring Brian Sikkenga as middle school physical education teacher and assistant varsity football coach. Hill said hiring had been based on the teaching position first.

– Had the first reading of NEOLA policy updates and Michigan Freedom of Information Act procedures and guidelines. The board will vote on them at its June meeting.

– Went into executive session for negotiations. No action was taken when the board returned to open session.

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