No improvement in FLY test scoresLUVERNE — Analysis released Monday by the Minnesota Department of Education reported the Flexible Learning Year (FLY) waiver granted to southwest Minnesota school districts did not raise test scores as intended — instead scores remained flat.
LUVERNE — Analysis released Monday by the Minnesota Department of Education reported the Flexible Learning Year (FLY) waiver granted to southwest Minnesota school districts did not raise test scores as intended — instead scores remained flat.
FLY, a three-year waiver granted to 25 districts beginning in 2010, permitted schools to start two weeks before Labor Day. State law prohibits starting school before Labor Day.
Luverne school district Superintendent Gary Fisher is not deterred by the analysis. Although the district failed to make AYP for the first time during the 2010-2011 school year, it outperformed the state average in both math and reading assessments. Overall proficiency for math was 58 percent — 2 percent higher than state average, and 81 percent for reading — 7 percent higher than the state average.
“Across the board, we didn’t fare as well as we wanted to, but I don’t think we can really base what we’re trying to do here (FLY) on one year’s test scores,” Fisher said. “The first year of FLY was exploratory.”
Fisher explained that upon being granted the waiver, the Luverne district’s in-service time last year focused on highlighting expectations to teachers.
“We looked at our test scores and strands where we were weak,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of training travel back to the classrooms when teachers know their expectations. The main focus during the first two weeks was instruction.”
With the institution of the Flexible Learning Year, the consortium of schools has resorted to more interdistrict staff development programs. Last year the districts hosted several notable educators from around the nation to discuss student data and strategies staff members can use to overcome weaknesses, Fisher said.
“Sure we can test kids, but it won’t be helpful if they’ve never had the opportunity to learn what they need to at grade level,” he said. “The only way to get through that is by staff development.”
Worthington School District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard added that the district concentrated on district-wide professional learning communities in its first year of FLY. Eight District 518 teachers are involved in a separate, interdistrict professional learning community.
“Professional learning communities are primarily teachers spending time talking about student learning and using data to make decisions and evaluations if students need additional assistance,” he explained.
“One of the greatest assets of the FLY concept is shared services.”
Landgaard said that with the two extra weeks of instruction for students, teachers have more time to teach test concepts that may not have necessarily been addressed before.
“It makes more sense that if you have more instruction time, you have created the opportunity for better success rates,” he added.
Mountain Lake Superintendent Bill Strom told The Associated Press while the districts, as a whole, did not score higher that the state, they’ve just kept pace.
Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker told AP that early starts adversely affected the Minnesota State Fair and the tourism industry, but Landgaard disagreed with that observation.
“So many of our legislators think that it’s hurting state fairs and vacations, but overall participation is up. During Flexible Learning Year, the state fair had the second- and third-highest attendance in history,” Landgaard said. “I think the economy has a greater impact on the resort industry than when schools start.”
Whether schools are seeing direct success with FLY, Landgaard said “the jury is still out on that.”