State report shows areas for growth in Albert Lea school district achievement

Published 8:29 pm Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The district’s year-to-year assessment performance is a roller coaster the Albert Lea Area Schools superintendent is ready to get off of.

Instead, Superintendent Mike Funk said, he’s looking for a “glide path up.”

Statewide school assessment and accountability data released Thursday included information intended to shed light on achievement and progress on state and reading math tests over time, progress toward English language proficiency, graduation rates and consistent attendance, the Minnesota Department of Education said. These emphases are part of the shift to a new accountability reporting system — North Star — with its first data release this year.

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The North Star release included three-year averages of school, district and state performances. For assessments, that includes years 2016 through 2018.

In both reading and math assessments, the Albert Lea Area Schools district is over 10 percent below the state average of 67 percent of students who passed or exceeded standards.

Year-to-year assessment results show the Albert Lea school district’s proficiency on the math MCAs dropped from 51 percent to 48.1 percent from 2017 to 2018, concurrent with a statewide drop. In reading, district performance was close to static, losing less than a percentage between 2017 and 2018 with 51.6 percent proficient students.

North Star accountability reports included progress points — steps made toward proficiency — for math, reading and English language proficiency. Funk and Kathy Niebuhr, director of secondary programs, said progress points calculated for the district and for Albert Lea High School itself would not be an accurate performance reflection due to an opt-out MCA test rate of over 50 percent. However, Director of Elementary Services Mary Jo Dorman said those progress points and measured growth can be helpful at the elementary school level. There is still some progress to be made.

“My biggest concern for our district moving forward is just making sure we are implementing our program in a consistent manner to meet the needs of our students and I think that is, that’s a challenge,” Funk said.

For Funk and Dorman, this means consistency in curriculum implementation. Their example was a math classroom last year whose new teacher skipped a portion of the math lesson because the teacher did not see the value in it.

“How did we miss not ensuring we had all staff doing that?” Dorman said.

According to Dorman, that consistent implementation includes making sure everyone on staff understands expectations and what the state standards are.


Schools identified for support

The state identified 485 schools to receive varying levels of support for the coming three years. In Albert Lea Area Schools, Albert Lea High School, Sibley Elementary School, Lakeview Elementary School and Halverson Elementary School were among the 485. The three elementary schools were identified due to low performance in MCA proficiency, progress toward language proficiency and academic progress, while Albert Lea High School was identified for a low four-year graduation rate with all students, but also specifically with white students, students eligible for free and reduced price meals and students in the special education program. Albert Lea High School was earmarked for more comprehensive support than the elementary schools.

District schools were also recognized among the 526 identified as top performers. Hawthorne Elementary School and Southwest Middle School were both recognized for being in the highest five percent of schools in the state for percentage of Asian students who attended more than 90 percent of their enrolled days. Hawthorne was also similarly recognized for English language learners’ attendance. Niebuhr said attendance was added to the accountability report as part of the national conversation on absenteeism in schools.

While Funk said the subgroup recognition was nice and he appreciates attendance has been added to the evaluation equation, the district needs to focus on hitting targets for everyone.

“We’re here to educate all of our kids,” he said.

He noted progress in school graduation rates. While the district did not meet its achievement and integration goals this year — which includes not only graduation rates but also kindergarten readiness and closing the racial and economic achievement gap in reading and math performance — the district is on track to meet graduation goals next year, he said.

“This gives us, really, a snapshot of how we’re doing as a school district on a certain date in time and are we meeting the needs of all of our learners?” Funk said. “And, clearly, we’re not, and we have some work to do.”

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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