Testing scores behind district goals

Published 9:24 am Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Testing scores for Albert Lea students are not aligning with the school board’s goals to exceed state averages, but there were a few successes.

Director of Teaching and Learning Mary Williams gave a report on recent test scores to the Albert Lea school board on Monday evening. Williams said there were a few grades that did well and some that did better than expected, but overall there is a lot of work to be done with many students.

“This is frustrating for me,” Williams said. “The buildings are just distraught.”

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Board member Bill Leland said he knows there is a lot of hard work going on and said there are some areas of successes, but overall he is concerned about not seeing more increases in test scores.

“We’re putting so much more effort into this; it concerns me,” Leland said.

Board Chairwoman Linda Laurie echoed those thoughts and was surprised by some of the lowest numbers, like that only 27.6 percent of seventh-graders were proficient in science. Williams called that “a scary percentage.”

“There are great things going on in our district,” Laurie said. “I’m struggling with these grades, these scores.”

The board discussed their goals with Williams, who said the district is still in a transition from old methods. She said the district may not see immediate results, but that principals and teachers are working tirelessly to find out what students need to know and how to help them learn it.

Williams said the district is looking for ways to improve the scores, like adding two full-time employees at Southwest Middle School because they know the incoming group of students needs more help in math and reading to be proficient.

Williams also said the district has more English language learners, more special education students and a higher percentage of students on free or reduced-cost lunch plans than the state average.

“Those are pieces that play into this,” Williams said.

ACT scores dropped from the previous year’s results. In 2012-13, students in Albert Lea had an average composite (math, English, science and writing) of 21.8; the state average is 23. Albert Lea’s average score in 2011-12 was 22.6.


New school year update

Superintendent Mike Funk presented the board with an update about the first week of the school year. Enrollment is at 3,302 for the whole district, which is about the same as the end of the last school year.

The largest grade in the district is kindergarten, with 70 more students than the 2014 graduating class. The senior class, of 204, is the smallest class in the district, though a few more students can be found at the Area Learning Center.

“The lower numbers are in the high school for the most part,” Funk said.

The district also implemented a time clock for its hourly workers. The data of how many hours paras, food service and other workers are doing is needed for the upcoming changes to health care. Director of Finance and Operations Lori Volz said the district has needed a time clock for some time, but now it was necessary.

“The main driver of this is health care reform,” Volz said. “We have exact data now.”

Volz said many employees were wary of the change, but after training and explanations most were able to understand and implement the change.

Funk also told the school board that there would be a survey going around to seniors, juniors and their parents regarding class scheduling and judging how rigorous classes were and the amount of opportunities available.

Leland said he hopes the survey can help the district because he has heard from parents and students that it is hard to find the classes they need. Leland said he hears that customer service leaves a lot to be desired when parents and students have scheduling problems.

“We still have issues,” Funk said. “I have no excuses for it.”

In other action the board:

• Heard that no classes were canceled despite heat and humidity. Most schools have been through heating and ventilating upgrades, so Southwest Middle School and Halverson Elementary School were the only two schools with overheated classrooms. Funk guessed that the weather will cool later this week and most schools will be comfortable.

• Learned about a site visit to Red Wing to learn about its on-site clinic for employees. The visit will be next Tuesday, and administrators will go to see if the project would be feasible for Albert Lea.

• Heard from Funk about the possibility of bringing back spring baseball for middle schoolers. The program was cut last year, but Funk has heard that children and parents would appreciate it being reinstated.

• Learned about a roundtable on education featuring Rep. Shannon Savick, D-Wells, and another state representative at 4 p.m. next Tuesday in Room E213 at Albert Lea High School.

• Heard about ways Funk is trying to publicize the upcoming referendum. Funk said there is information on the district’s website, mailings out in the community, and that he is presenting to community groups, among other projects.

The next school board meeting will be at 5 p.m. Sept. 23 in the boardroom at Brookside Education Center.