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Southwest MCA results dip, as does Minnesota average

Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment scores at Southwest Middle School slid last year in a move the principal said reflected the overall state trajectory.

“We know it’s rough and we know we have work to do,” Southwest Middle School Principal Chris Dibble said at Monday night’s Albert Lea Area Schools board meeting.

The school has been focusing on reading in the past few years, Dibble said, but this year added a math goal to daily incorporate more math strategies in more content areas.

Among all grades, 38.2% of middle school students meeting enrollment criteria tested as proficient in math in 2019, according to data provided by the Minnesota Department of Education. Last year’s number was higher, with 45.5% of students testing as proficient. The state average is 55.5% of middle school students testing proficient on their math MCAs.

Seventh graders on their own had 39.9% of students who tested as proficient in math, down from 46.6% in 2018. Sixth graders alone had 3% lower proficiency than the seventh graders in 2019.

But Dibble said seventh grade is the first spot in which the middle school has seen the issue discussed for over a year now at the high school level: a drop in participation in the MCAs themselves.

While the percent of students proficient at reading among Albert Lea middle schoolers did drop this year to 54.4% testing as proficient, these numbers held more steady than math, Dibble said.

In addition to setting math goals, the middle school will also push for more growth in its students, the principal said. Approximately 40% of middle school students showed low growth in math and approximately 33% showed low growth in reading, MDE data shows. Strategies for improving growth will include pushing students who meet expectations into the higher “exceeds” category.

Just 13% of Southwest Middle School English learners are meeting their targets, MDE data shows. Dibble said the school had a large influx of English learners and has increased the staff time devoted to working with English learners at Southwest Middle School. Schools in the district have also worked on English learner strategies with an MDE consultant.

Dibble did celebrate consistent attendance from Southwest’s student body, which went up this year and beat the district and state average for attendance.

“For middle school students, the hardest part is to get them in school and to get them engaged,” Dibble said. “… If we can get our students in the building, this is a big help in helping them learn.”

Albert Lea High School scores were also low in the 2019 MCAs. The MCAs for math and reading test eighth and 11th graders.

Among its fellow Big Nine Conference schools, Albert Lea High School had the second-highest opt-out rate for the MCAs, data presented by Albert Lea High School Principal Mark Grossklaus showed Monday. At 72% of students sitting for the MCAs, only Red Wing was lower than Albert Lea’s 74% participation rate. Northfield had the highest student participation at 99%. The opt-outs affect 11th grade more, Albert Lea Area Schools Superintendent Mike Funk said. In 2019, 54.1% of juniors sat for the math MCA.

Lower still were the scores as well as student growth in both eighth and 11th grade. While Grossklaus claimed Albert Lea High School has some of the state’s top students, “we’re not translating that in our math and reading.”

Combined, 34.5% of eighth and 11th graders meeting enrollment criteria tested as proficient in math, a small drop from 36.8% last year. Scores for the same two grades showed a 5.3% drop in percent of students testing as proficient compared with last year. In 2019, 39.3% of students tested showed proficiency in reading.

Of English learner students at the high school, 59% made progress toward their individual growth — 2.4% behind the state average — and 35.2% met their targets (4.9% behind the state average).

Grossklaus said that future work with English learner students should include finding out what family and student goals are for their education and future.

“How do we set them up to get the best that they can?” he said.

Where Albert Lea High School surpasses the state is its participation in Advanced Placement courses and College in the Schools. Last year, 56% of Albert Lea High School students participated in College in the Schools courses, compared to 33% of students statewide. Where 32% of students statewide took Advanced Placement courses, 48% of Albert Lea High School students did so.

According to data presented by Grossklaus, 27% scored a three or higher among all AP exams.

Grossklaus said the high school needs to do a better job of promoting alternatives to the ACT, including the ASVAB (a placement test used by the military) and the Accuplacer, a test used frequently by two-year schools.

“It’s not a status thing to take the ACT if that’s not really what you need,” Grossklaus said.

In other action:

• The school board approved edits to district policy 515, which deals with the protection and privacy of pupil records. The changes removed some repealed federal laws and added specific information about the rights of disabled students and their parents as well as pieces to protect data that identifies the student electronically (for instance, a student’s user ID or pin numbers).

• The school board also heard the first reading of two new policies, one regarding guidelines for assessing students in the district’s gifted and talented program and one to outline the procedures for public data requests. Policy 513 put practice into policy for its gifted and talented assessments as is now required by the district for it to achieve certain funding, Executive Director of Administrative Services Kathy Niebuhr said. Policy 722 was a Minnesota School Board Association-recommended policy add and includes information on what is public data and general costs the public could be charged for data requests. Funk said the district receives a few data requests a year and that average costs associated with those requests have been “next to nothing” — though the cost does depend on the request.

 

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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