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Granite Falls Advocate Tribune - Granite Falls, MN
  • Many tests, but an absent question: Seeking the answers behind test score succes and failure. Yellow Medicine East believes it can EXCEL

  • When “No Child Left Behind' became the law of the land, students and schools across the nation were rated using complicated statistical analysis of standardized tests. Schools were flagged as losers or winners depending on their AYP scores as compared to the state scores and other schools scores. Now, the state o...
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  • When "No Child Left Behind' became the law of the land, students and schools across the nation were rated using complicated statistical analysis of standardized tests. Schools were flagged as losers or winners depending on their AYP scores as compared to the state scores and other schools scores.
    Now, the state of Minnesota has pulled itself away from the "No Child Left Behind" statistical comparison and implemented in its place the MMR (Minnesota Multiple Rating). The MMR is being heralded as a much more holistic approach to measuring student success.
    The state continues to use MCA-II scores and a complicated statistical analysis of data to rate schools; comparing the individual school's scores to state scores and other schools' scores. The new MMR uses a new yard stick, new terminology, and data, but the same bottom line. The schools and students are still being compared.
    YME School Superin-tendent Al Stoeckman recently ran an analysis of the MMR data for Bert Raney Elementary and Benson Northside Elementary. The choice for comparison was due to similar student enrollment numbers. Even though the student enrollment numbers are similar, the ethnicity of the two schools is very different.
    YME is 65.2 percent White, 19.7 percent American Indian, 12.3 percent Hispanic, 1.9 percent Asian and .09 percent Black. Benson is 92.5 percent White, 5.9 percent Hispanic, .09 percent Black, .05 percent Asian and .02 percent American Indian.
    The statistics show YME MMR score is 8.91 percent and a FR (Focus Rating) 6.51 per cent, Proficiency .78 percent; Growth 3.66 and Achievement Gap Reduction 2.24 percent. Benson Northside Elementary MMR score is 44.55 percent and FR of 59.02 percent, Proficiency 24.99, Growth 3.9 and Achievement Gap Reduction 4.53 percent.
    Last year BRE Principal Jodi Kennedy brought her concerns over the number of absences among elementary students to the board's attention. Data was then gathered. The data gathered by the school showed that 53 students in grades 3-6 were absent 10 or more times during the school year. The ethnic breakdown of the students who were absent shows 28 White, 16 American Indian, 7 Hispanic, 1 Asian and 1 Black.
    Digging deeper at each grade level, 4 students in grade 3 were absent 20 or more days with one student absent 46.5 days and another 35.5 days. Grade 4 shows 2 students were absent 20 or more days with one student 33.5 days. Grade 5 shows 2 students absent 20 or more days with one student absent 21 days. Grade 6 shows 6 students were absent 20 or more days with one student absent 54 days, another 37, another 35, and another 27 days.
    Instead of looking at the statistical data the question schools should be answering is "What was done differently last year to help the students at YME to score higher on standardized tests?"
    When asked that question, Stoeckman paused, and said, "That's a good question. I believe the after school program run by Robin Henderson last winter helped the most." Stoeckman was referring to the Excel program.
    The EXCEL program began in January. 54 students in grades 3-6 were enrolled in the program. The students were chosen based on their MCA-II and NWEA scores. The goal of the program was to help students who do not feel comfortable with reading and math to gain greater confidence in their skills and abilities.
    Page 2 of 3 - The 2 hour after school session was designed with 3 rotations that included math, reading and activity. The activity rotation included an after school snack followed by an interactive session with art, science, or a life skill opportunity. The math sessions included math games, math facts, geometry problem solving, fractions, probability and SMART Board activities. The reading sessions included such things as vocabulary bingo, reading and literacy games, such as going on a scavenger hunt using the Advocate Tribune and the YME District Newsletter. The reading session also used the curriculum "Great Leaps" which was a vocabulary recognition review.
    When Robin Henderson was asked how the student's success was measured she responded: "We used the NWEA test scores. 90 percent of the After School students that took the NWEA test in the fall and spring showed an average of 10.2 point increase in their reading score and 92 percent of the students showed an average of 10.8 point increase in their math score."
    When asked about attendance at the after school EXCEL program Henderson explained: "54 students in grades 3-6 were enrolled in the 2012 EXCEL program. Parents were asked to sign an agreement that if their children were offered an opportunity to be in the program, they, in turn, would commit to making sure that their child attended the 20 sessions. Funding for this program, in part, is based on regular attendance so it is critical that the parents understand that and help get the students to the program. These parents did just that. 68% of the children that attended the program last year did so with perfect attendance for all 20 sessions, 13% missed an occasional class, this was due, in part, to students wanting to also be on a Hoops team that had an occasional practice during the same time period and the Prairie Fire Children's Theater was also in town for one week and their practices also coincided with our after school times. The 18% that missed more frequently was due to student illness, family emergencies, and in the case of 2 students, their family moved to a different town thus they did not complete the program."
    Henderson shared that students liked being a part of the program and enjoyed the small group atmosphere. She explained, "The other goal of the EXCEL program was to reduce the achievement gap and we are excited to see scores that support that effort. Our EXCEL staff for 2012 was passionate and committed to creating an exceptional program and they did just that. Those involved were Craig Mooney, Ginger Baldwin, Kristina Blackwelder, Louann Paslawski, Katie Lewandowski, Adela Espinoza, Lori Schindele, Donna Kosak and Sherry Smith. We plan to offer a similar program starting in January 2013."
    At the August school board meeting Stoeckman shared the results of the spring MCA-III test scores showing the BRE is continuing to narrow the achievement gap, but still not able to close the gap.
    Page 3 of 3 - He indicated that the teachers are on board. He stated that they were dedicated and hard working. He indicated that in school programs had been implemented to help students who were lagging behind. He said that new curriculum was introduced to help build fidelity in the way students were presented the information.
    Talented dedicated teachers, good curriculum, intervention programs in the school day and after school all help reduced the achievement gap, yet the MMR proficiency rate is still at 8.91 percent.
    Is it time to take a closer look at attendance? How do the 53 students with poor attendance factor into the proficiency scores?

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