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District 518 up, down on state test scores

WORTHINGTON -- Worthington School District 518 students experienced mixed results in the statewide math and reading assessment tests.

Every year, school districts are evaluated based on math and reading results that determine if they make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress).

According to data released by the Minnesota Department of Education last week, the overall statewide proficiency for math is 56 percent, down about 9 percent from the previous year. An almost 2 percent increase in reading scores, however, brought the overall proficiency rate to 74 percent for 2011 in that area.

In determining overall proficiency, results for MCA II and/or III, MCA-Modified and MTAS were combined. The MTAS, instead of the MCA, is taken by 1 percent of students with most significant cognitive disabilities, while the newly added MCA-Modified -- another alternative assessment -- is for an additional 2 percent of students with severe cognitive disabilities.


A major change this year in testing this year is that third- to eighth-graders were subject to MCA-III for math -- a new, more "rigorous" test which prepares them for stronger emphasis on algebra, among other areas, said District 518 Coordinator of Teaching and Learning Tammy Timko.

Results from the MCA-III will set a new baseline for comparison in future years.

District 518 students fared 38 percent in overall proficiency, which like the statewide results fell from those of the previous year.

"Although we can't completely compare with last year (because of the new MCA-III), the state went down almost 10 percent but we went down about 4 percent," Timko said. "It does tell me that we went down lower than the state with the new assessment."

The only valid comparison is for MCA-II that 11th-graders tested for. District 518 results reflected its highest proficiency rate within the last five years -- at almost 37 percent, scores were up by 8 percent from 2010. Minnesota's 11th-graders, overall, showed a 5.3 percent increase in proficiency.

In a press release, Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said that the increase in proficiency scores for 11th-grade students may be "attributable to an increased expectation that students will take three years of rigorous math coursework in high school."

Also noteworthy is the school district's math proficiency trend in comparison to that of the state's.

"We do have a downward trend, which is an issue we want to look at," Timko said. "We're looking at what we can do to reverse that trend."

Since 2007, District 518 has seen a steady decline in overall math proficiency rates. Statewide, the trend was upward until results took a dip this year.


Although District 518 reading assessment results fell below state average, at a 60 percent proficiency rate, the results displayed a 3 percent increase over those from 2010.

In line with the state's trend, District 518 reading proficiency scores reflected an upward trend since 2007. Timko said the trend indicates the several steps the district has been implementing in lower grades to address reading issues.

One such effort is using Response to Intervention (RTI), Timko said. The district hires interventionists, who work with small groups of students from kindergarten to third grade during their reading times.

"It's making it more personalized and really hitting on those areas where they really need focus on," she said.

"Right now, I would say that the district is a stage of comparison -- what we're doing in reading and math and if there's a way we can do something to help those math scores," Timko explained.

Achievement gaps

Like the state, District 518 is also struggling with achievement gaps both racially and economically.

Racial disparity is evident in both math and reading proficiency tests.

There is about a 30 percent proficiency gap in both math and reading for students of minority groups in the district compared to their Caucasian peers.

An economic indicator for the district is the 27 percent proficiency gap for math and reading between students enrolled in free and reduced lunch programs and those who are not.

Timko added that the school district has been working to bridge both gaps. At the end of last year, elementary teachers started training for SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Operation Protocol).

"Basically, it is teaching best practices with an emphasis on language acquisition," Timko explained. "Although it is meant for ELL students, it really also has been shown to have an impact on students of poverty."

She added that research has shown that students of lower economic backgrounds are more likely to have "less of a language background and less range of vocabulary."

Co-teaching, another bridging effort, was tested in a fourth-grade class last year and is now implemented in third and fourth grade classes with ELL students. The model involves an English- language teacher who is paired with the classroom teacher, with the goal that the ELL teacher can bring his or her expertise into the classroom.

"If you look at our population, almost 50 percent of our kids come from homes where the primary home language is something other than English," Timko said.

Meanwhile, Adrian schools district fared above state average on proficiency scores for both math and reading -- math at 63.1 percent and reading at 76.3 percent.

"Overall we're pleased that we're still above average, but we recognize that we still have some work to do," said Adrian District Assessment Coordinator Russell Lofthus.

AYP results are expected to be released by Sept. 30, Timko said, but are currently on hold pending the U.S. Department of Education ruling on Minnesota's No Child Left Behind waiver request.