Sibley, Hawthorne report math and reading scores

Published 9:14 pm Monday, October 1, 2018

A population influx at Sibley Elementary School over the course of several years and a young staff has influenced how the school addresses student needs, the elementary school’s principal said Monday.

“(There are) lots of great things happening, but just more bodies in our building,” Sibley Principal Diane Schultz said.

Similar to other elementaries in the Albert Lea Area Schools district, Sibley students in kindergarten and first grade showed lower proficiency scores in FAST (formative assessment system for teachers) testing, Schultz said.

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Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment testing showed third-graders retain their reading proficiency and increase their math proficiency. In 2018, 56.2 percent of students were proficient in reading, while 71.2 percent were proficient in math. Fourth-graders were relatively stable in reading, while math proficiency dropped 17 percent, as 55 percent of students tested came out as proficient. Fifth-grader results showed almost a 10 percent decline in reading, down to 62 percent proficient, while math performance stayed on par with results from 2017. In 2018, 52.8 percent of fifth-graders tested as proficient in math. Schultz noted this number has still not returned the school near to its 2015 results, in which 82.1 percent of fifth-grade students were proficient in math.

Schultz said the school is hoping data on students as they carry through grades would help isolate areas for improvement, but the trends haven’t appeared.

“We’re not always able to see exact areas where they’re the same,” she said. “We’re still digging in.”

In areas for improvement, Schultz echoed Lakeview and Halverson elementary principals in singling out phonics. Schultz said her building, staffed with relatively young teachers, had several who weren’t comfortable with the phonics training they received in school and therefore were not comfortable teaching phonics to students.

“Professional development has been very much needed,” Schultz said.

Progress has been slow, she said, but check-ins with teachers receiving phonics training shows them coming out more comfortable.

Since she started in 2015, Schultz said the student population has increased from around 350 to around 430. As the population has increased, Schultz said the building has also seen a rise in social-emotional needs. Schultz said students need both behavioral and academic attention, addressing social-emotional needs could influence academic behavior.

Additionally, Sibley Elementary School emphasizes licensed staff working with students needing academic intervention and using educational assistants to work with gifted and talented students, rather than an intervention strategy that works the other way around.

School board member Angie Hanson called the strategy brilliant but obvious.

“I think, most of the time, we do that backwards,” she said, citing a strategy of intervention that increases staff time with student but through the use of educational assistants.

Board member Jill Marin said test scores do not reflect what was intended by efforts like moving the district to an early start calendar.

“We’re moving the other way,” she said.

Marin also asked whether the snow day policy, which rather than make-up days asks students to work from home, affected children in poverty and non-poverty homes differently. Some students may not have access to the devices or materials they need from home, she said.

According to Schultz, Sibley teachers have looked at sending more supplies home with students who may need additional materials. This may not always be technology, she said, but perhaps books or utensils. Schultz said while the teacher’s Google numbers, listed on the district website, are intended to increase access for students, getting families to use those numbers has been a work in progress. October teacher conferences are an opportunity to reconnect with families and re-emphasize the opportunity for outreach on snow days, she said.


Hawthorne Elementary School

At Hawthorne, building principal John Mahal said FAST test results show students who come to Hawthorne may not be coming in with the necessary foundation of early literacy skills.

“When they come to Hawthorne, they’re not always ready to be there,” he said.

Therefore, rather than building on skills, teachers are laying foundations.

However, by second grade — and particularly in math — the building has begun. Mahal cited close to 70 percent of students were having their learning needs met in the classroom.

MCA testing showed almost 45 percent of third-grade students were proficient in reading and 52.2 percent were proficient in math, the latter displaying a 10-percent drop from 2017 scores. Fourth-grade reading proficiency held steady from 2017 to 2018 in the low 40s, while math proficiency took a 10-percent drop at that grade level as well from 2017 to 49.3 percent in 2018. Fifth-grade reading proficiency scores held in the low- to mid-60 percents, while math performance dipped past last year down to approximately 37 percent proficient.

Mahal said it was difficult for him to speak to previous years’ data, as this is his first year in the district. However, he said Hawthorne Elementary School is moving forward with more purposeful intervention services, particularly in first and second grade. In kindergarten, he said the focus is on intervention that pushes into the classroom rather than pulling students out. Also like its peers, the school is focusing on identifying and further incorporating classroom standards of teaching.

“I’m not saying it wasn’t happening in the past, but I don’t know if it was really brought back to everything that they were doing to focus on what needs to be taught each and every lesson,” Mahal said.

Both Hawthorne and Sibley elementary schools were above the state average in attendance, with over 90 percent of students attending over 90 percent of school days. Attendance, Mahal said, is not what is holding students back from achieving their goals.

“Even though we’re happy with this (attendance), we know it can get better,” he said. “We want it to get better.”

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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