School board reviews goals for teaching, learning

Published 8:02 pm Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The teaching and learning coordinator for Albert Lea Area Schools presented an update to the school board Monday about efforts being taken to improve long-term teaching and learning for the district.

Julie Eaton gave the annual report about the district’s World’s Best Workforce plan, a long-term, comprehensive strategic plan adopted by the school board annually.

It addresses five goals:

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• All children are ready for school.

• All third-graders can read at grade level.

• All racial and economic achievement gaps between students are closed.

• All students are ready for career and college.

• All students graduate from high school.

Regarding the first performance measure, Eaton said the district’s goal for the 2018-19 school year was to have 90% of incoming kindergarteners attending preschool programming.

She said this was encouraged in many ways, such as through collaborative community meetings, advertising, parent-teacher conferences for siblings, success coaches and direct mailings

This enrollment continues to go up each year and will continue to be a focus for the district.

The goal for the 2019-20 school year is to increase the number of students above the “some” to “low risk” categories in kindergarten fall benchmark tests from 73% to 78%.

This will be done through various outreach efforts, supporting teachers in reviewing state standards and training early childhood teachers on phonemic awareness, among other steps.

In the second performance measure, Eaton said the goal for the 2018-19 school year was to have 80% of children on target for third-grade reading proficiency on the MCA state test. In 2019, 42.5% of Albert Lea third graders met or exceeded proficiency on the test.

Eaton said for the 2019-20 school year it hopes to increase the percent on target from 42.5% to 47.5%. She said extensive phonemic awareness and phonics training was completed in September and teachers are continuing to receiving instruction on how to support multilingual students. Other steps being taken to help the district toward this are providing support for teachers by instructional coaches and conducting ongoing data review to target individual student needs and ensure growth.

For the third performance measure, the district’s goal was to have the math and reading and language arts achievement rates of 90% for MCA tests, with no student groups below 85% proficiency.

According to the MCA results, proficiency scores in math and reading decreased in almost every race category from 2018 to 2019 and ranged from 25% to 55% in 2019.

Eaton acknowledged this was concerning to see the decreases.

She said the goal for the 2019-20 school year is to decrease the gap in reading and math proficiency rates for all racial or ethnic groups by 5 percentage points.

A few of the school board members questioned whether there was a way to track MCA proficiency with the same group of students instead of having data with different students each year to track improvement or growth.

For the fourth performance measure, the goal for 2018-19 was that 100% of students identify career or college pathways through a program with their counselors and teachers. The state goal is for the eighth-grade math achievement rate to be at 90% with no student group below 85% by 2025.

Eaton said many steps have been taken to encourage this goal, including the Pathways course for eighth-graders, having counselors work with students at various levels through the Naviance program, offering the AP, ACT, Accuplacer and ASVAB exams and increased College in the Schools and postsecondary enrollment options, among others.

Eaton said 87% of ninth graders accessed the Naviance program and 69% started a four-year course plan. Overall, 37.2% of eighth-grade students were proficient on the MCA math assessment in 2019.

She said the goal for 2019-20 is to increase the percent of students who reach college-ready benchmarks in the four core areas of the ACT by 5 percentage points.

On the fifth performance measure, the goal for 2018-19 was that 90% of students graduate in four years with no student group below 85%.

Eaton said the overall percent of students graduating in four years was 77.9%, with the lowest percentages coming from English learners at 52.9% and special education students at 56.3%.

The goal for 2019-20 is to increase from 77.9% to 85%.

School board member Dennis Dieser asked if there was a way to take special education students out of the numbers because these students are allowed by law to have more than four years to graduate.

Superintendent Mike Funk said the district has a high number of English learners and special education student that makes this category difficult for the district and said he thinks there is a disconnect between the Minnesota Department of Education and meeting the needs of the district’s learners.

School board Chairman Ken Petersen said he wasn’t sure the goal was realistic.

Eaton said success coaches will continue to support multilingual students for achievement, and teachers are working to provide a viable curriculum for all students. She also referred to other interventions and accommodations to support students’ needs.