Newton's Santa Fe talks Summit Learning with parents

Chad Frey
The Kansan
Kirstyn Pracht, fifth grade ELA and social studies teacher at Santa Fe Middle School, goes over Summit Learning with parents during "Parent University" at the school this week.

For the last three school years parents in Newton USD 373 have been questioning Summit Learning — voicing concerns over how much instruction has been delegated to the computer software, how much screen time their children are getting in school and how many assesment and dianostic tests have been adminstered — and failed — in the system. 

Many of those concerns and questions came to the forefront during a "Parent University" at Santa Fe Middle School on Monday night —  program created by the staff at Santa Fe Middle School. 

Parents were able to attend 30-minute sessions in their student's home rooms, and those sessions were designed to give parents the information they need about summit. 

The night was part of a district-wide improvement effort created at the direction of  the Newton USD 373 Board of Education last year in an effort to respond to not only parent complaints but the number of incomplete grades reported at Chisholm Middle School. 

The board is expected to decide the future of the learning platform within the school district this December.  

Each homeroom went over how parents can log into the Summit system at home, and how they can check the work progress of their students. Color codes for each area were given. 

Each class using Summit is broken into three different areas — Projects, power focus areas and additional focus areas. 

"Additionals are just to cement their grades in," said  Kirstyn Pracht, fifth grade ELA and social studies during one of her Parent University sessions. "It can get them from a B to an A or a C to B. If they need an additional push, that is what they are going to do."

The project area is the main part of a student grade — 80 percent of a student's final grade. Power focus areas are typically 14 percent of the final grade, with additional focus areas six percent. 

"When they are not doing well on a project area, we will have them fix it," Pracht said.  

Students can set weekly goals which are designed to allow for "mentor check-in," Students can have a semi-weekly mentoring session with their teacher. 

There is also a "year view," where students and parents can see the progress in each assigned area for the current semester. That was a change made this summer — previously the year view showed the entire school year. 

"We typically did the whole year. We found that a lot of students, especially when they start out, it was stressful for them to see everything that they have to do for their year," Pracht said. "We shortened it. It is way better. It is manageable."

The system also gives a "progress view" where parents can see teacher feedback to students, and when updated, grades. 

A often lobbed complaint from parents the past two years, brought to the board of education multiple times, is the number of times students take the same assessment test in order to pass the test and move on with a class in Summit. 

"We allow three attempts on each of these," Pracht said. Students should not take a specific assessment  more than three times. If a student does not pass the assessment on the second time, teachers schedule a workshop session to give additional assistance for the tested area. 

"We monitor very closely how often they take it," said Kristie Thompson, fifth grade math and science teacher at Santa Fe. "They have to fill out a ticket to take it. And these are things they cannot do at home. They can take notes at home, but they cannot take the assessment at home ... because we have to approve it."

Students cannot move on to the next focus area until they have shown mastery of the area they are in — scoring eight out of 10 on the assessment for the focus area. 

Part of what parents saw this week were fewer assignments as the number of assignments was pared down this summer, especially compared to online only work lists from last school year.  

"Online kids had more additoiinals and focus areas, and we took off a ton," Pracht said. "We tried to cut it down. It was just not fair. It was too much. Some kids could get it done, but it was impossible for others."