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High school sees trend of opt-outs for state tests

Albert Lea’s ACT scores have dipped in last 3 yrs.

Albert Lea Area Schools leaders expressed their displeasure with Minnesota’s standardized testing policies on Monday during the school board meeting.

Superintendent Mike Funk said he thinks there is a “disconnect within the Legislature itself” based on Minnesota’s standardized testing policies.

Beginning in 2015, Minnesota began requiring all high school juniors to take the ACT. As it stands now, the Minnesota Department of Education requires districts to offer the test to all juniors and seniors during a school day in a move Funk called “an inconvenience for the whole school.”

Albert Lea High School Principal Mark Grossklaus attributed a dip in ACT scores — both in Albert Lea and at the state level — in the past three years to the state requirement as students who may not be on the college track take the ACT. The school district paid for student testing fees.

Funk said the ACT standards are not the same as Minnesota’s state standards, so mandating the test makes it difficult for teachers to ascertain an intended direction.

In 2016, the state average for ACT test results was 21.1. For Albert Lea High School, the average was 19.6, with 208 students taking the test. In 2017, the state averaged 21.5, while Albert Lea averaged 20.2 with 169 test-takers.

Grossklaus said he is noticing an upward trend of students opting out of standardized tests in high school.

Funk also cited dropout numbers for the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments.

“We had over 200 kids opt out of the MCAs because they saw no value in it whatsoever,” Funk said.

Grossklaus said students who are opting out of the test are a combination of high-achievers and struggling students. Additionally, as there are multiple ACT testing opportunities outside of the school’s testing day, he said it occurs often that students have already taken the test.

According to Grossklaus, students can opt out in a few ways, but one way is to simply not show up to the testing day.

All students who take Advanced Placement classes are also required by the school to take the Advanced Placement exam for that class, which the district pays for. School board member Neal Skaar said he assumed this contributed to the “rather dismal appearance of our results.”

For the 2016-17 school year, the mean score in each of the five offered AP tests for the Albert Lea school district was below 2.5.

“Do we need improvement?” Grossklaus said. “Yes, I think we can do better here.”

Grossklaus said he saw improvement opportunities in eighth-grade math and reading proficiency.

“I think this is the most concerning slide here,” he said of student growth statistics. “We’re not seeing growth in our math.” He said the school is looking into what to do with math students in the future.

Although Southwest Middle School’s math assessment numbers are not where Principal Steve Kovach said the school wants them to be, he reported that both math and reading proficiency scores increased last year.

The school met its building goal with a reading proficiency increase from 48.9 to 56.5 percent. Kovach cited the school’s increased time emphasis on math and other content areas beginning this year as a way to address the school’s desire for continual increases in math proficiency.

The school board also:

  • Held a closed session on labor negotiations.
  • Held a closed session on preliminary consideration of allegations against an employee. Deputy Superintendent Lori Volz declined to comment.
  • Discussed potential reporting discrepancies for those needing free and reduced lunches and those filling out the required paperwork to enroll. Funk said the school district is attempting to further inform people about free and reduced lunch benefits, including lower activity fees. According to Volz, “it’s hard to know why” parents may not be filling out forms required to get financial support. She said it is a common trend that free and reduced lunch rate percentages are lower in middle school than elementary.
  • Discussed progress on the community facilities ThoughtExchange survey. Funk said the survey had 320 responses at the time of the meeting. The survey closed 11 p.m. Monday. Funk said the board will receive a report on community responses in November.
  • Passed a resolution regarding the title of the Oakland Education Center. The resolution’s intent is to allow the title of the Oakland Education Center to pass over to the Austin-Albert Lea Area Special Education Cooperative once the lease term on the building has ended.According to Volz, the Austin school board passed a similar resolution, and the intent is for the Austin-Albert Lea Area Special Education Cooperative to pass it again so that each board is on the same page. Albert Lea is evenly sharing the cost of the principal and its interest with Austin.
  • Swore in two student board members, Ella Zelenak and Gigi Otten.

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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