School district rounds out performance with middle, high school test results

Published 9:43 pm Monday, October 15, 2018

After last year’s scores on state assessments — and, at the high school level, several others — administrators and teachers continue the conversation about how to help students improve their reading and math performances.

Southwest Middle School Principal Chris Dibble said the school’s primary focus is students’ reading skills, quoting one of his building staff: “If kids can’t read, kids can’t do math,” he said.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, Southwest sixth-graders followed an overall district trend in reading, with a small climb from 61.9 percent in 2017 to 63.7 percent in 2018 of Southwest sixth-graders proficient in reading as judged by the Minnesota Comprehensive
Assessment test. Seventh-grader proficiency stayed static at 54.7 percent in reading.

Building-wide, math scores dropped five percent to 45.4 percent proficient, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. Dibble said the math department met its numbers with an idea to potentially change the structure of geometry class — students are tackling those benchmarks, Dibble said — to try to teach students more skills coming out of elementary schools.

According to Southwest teachers, Dibble said the problem is automaticity: the automatic recall of math skills (think 4 x 4, Dibble said).

“You’re burning a lot of instructional time waiting for the calculations to take place in the heads,” he said.

At Albert Lea High School, MCA scores brush the surface of testing conversations. Opt-out rates for the test are higher than their counterparts in the Big Nine, Albert Lea High School Principal Mark Grossklaus said. He said he reached out to each of the Big Nine principals and asked how they encourage student participation in MCA testing. The answer?

“‘Our public hasn’t opted their kids out yet,’” Grossklaus said the response was.

Grossklaus and Albert Lea Area Schools Superintendent Mike Funk said results shown by MCAs may be tempered by that opt-out rate, which seems to occur more frequently in high-achieving students. Grossklaus said of the 104 11th-grade students who opted out of state testing, 52 took the ACT with a score of 24 or higher and also got a score of five (the highest) on AP exams, while 33 took the ACT and achieved a three or four on AP exams.

“Some of our highest achieving students are choosing because of the other requirements they believe are important to do,” he said.

Eighth-graders showed a steady level of proficiency from 2017 to 2018, remaining at 41 percent. Eighth-grade student math proficiency increased by almost 5 percent over the same year, from 36.7 to 41.0 percent. Tenth-grade reading also stayed relatively stable, with 48.1 percent of students proficient in 2018, while math climbed slightly from 34.0 to 36.5 percent from 2017 to 2018.

ACT results from 2017 came in close to district goals, Grossklaus said.

“This is the area where I look at and say we’re doing a lot of good things,” he said.

As of now, all students at Albert Lea High School can choose to take the ACT during school, Grossklaus said. This is an offering he hopes to expand from one test to three. In addition to the ACT, Grossklaus said he would like to offer students the chance to take the ACCUPLACER, a skill assessment test, and the ASVAB test, which the military uses when considering enrollment.

“That’s how we would like to move forward at the high school to meet the needs of all our students,” Grossklaus said.

School board chairman Ken Petersen and members Jill Marin and Neal Skaar reacted positively to the idea. The board has talked about how to create more opportunities for students who are not bound for a four-year college, and this fits into that conversation, Petersen said.

“I think looking at the other tests would be something to really, really consider,” Petersen said.

The school board also approved the refunding of bonds issued in 2009. Stacy Childers, a representative of public sector advisers Springsted, said the OPEB building bonds are recommended to sell on Dec. 3. And will save the district between $30,000 and $35,000 based on estimates using current market conditions. Deputy superintendent Lori Volz said doing the refunding at this time will save the district on interest, which will be reflected in the levy to be approved in December. The savings from the interest will be spread out over two years.

“It’s always good to save the taxpayers money,” Petersen said.

In other action:

• Administrator on Special Assignment John Double said the district continues toward its Pathways goals, developing partnerships with the community and plans for further implementation in schools for 2020. He said he has visited over 70 businesses or community contacts since September. Students were able to attend a mini job fair at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin as well as other job fairs and events. Double has several upcoming site visits planned. He said the district has all the right pieces, and the job is about putting them together into a cohesive plan.

• Grossklaus was recognized for his award as the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals’ Southeast Division Principal of the Year.

“What I really appreciate about Mark is the impact he’s had on the culture of Albert Lea High School,” Funk said. Grossklaus said the award was also a reflection of the students, the staff and the work being done at Albert Lea High School.

• Southwest Middle School teacher Laura Wangen reported the Homecoming carnival as a big success for athletic teams and clubs to showcase their leadership skills.

“Next year, we’re going to hope to make it bigger and better,” she said.

She reminded board members that the annual Gobble Wobble is coming up Nov. 18. Online registration is open.

• Blue Zones Organization Lead for the City of Albert Lea Ellen Kehr spoke at the public forum to thank the district for the work it has put into increasing the community’s well-being. All facilities in the district are Blue Zones worksites, she said.

“This is a special thank you because you kept your promises, but really, went over and above that,” she said.

• The school board met for a closed session for preliminary considerations of allegations against an employee. Funk confirmed the employee in question was Erin Bennett, who was arrested in September for cocaine possession during a traffic stop.

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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