New rating system comes to Lake County schoolsStandardized testing can be confusing. In Lake County, most students take multiple MCA and NWEA tests throughout their school years and college-bound kids take the ACT and the PSAT. Keeping all the acronyms straight is difficult enough, but after the tests are taken, administrators and instructors have to make sense of the results.
By: LaReesa Sandretsky, Lake County News Chronicle
Standardized testing can be confusing. In Lake County, most students take multiple MCA and NWEA tests throughout their school years and college-bound kids take the ACT and the PSAT. Keeping all the acronyms straight is difficult enough, but after the tests are taken, administrators and instructors have to make sense of the results. These scores are intended to reveal areas of individual weakness and strength, but also prompt schools to develop strategies to address unmet academic need.
In February Minnesota received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education-- freeing schools from the No Child Left Behind mandate. NCLB requires 100 percent proficiency in math and reading—a standard from which Minnesota and nine other states sought exemption. Instead, the Multiple Measurement Ratings system was developed. This new means of assessing school and student progress uses the results of MCA tests, which students must pass to graduate—one in writing, one in reading and one in math. Children in lower grades also take these tests.
"These tests help us work on programming,” Two Harbors High School principal Brett Archer said.
Pat Driscoll, principal of Minnehaha Elementary School, uses the scores to find innovative approaches to delivering curriculum to students. If a nearby school is performing significantly better than Minnehaha in a subject area or grade level, she arranges for her teaching staff to observe those teachers in action. She may also visit and gather new ideas on her own .
At the high school level, Archer said they’re advocating collaboration among teachers to enrich kids’ school days.
"I ask the teachers,’ what are some smarter ways that we could utilize each other's expertise?’” he said. For example, he would like to see math vocabulary or the history behind scientific discoveries integrated into English classes. Making these connections throughout the day will help them perform well at test time.
In kindergarten through eighth grade, the schools have also begun to use Odyssey, an online tutoring program. This resource individualizes classwork for students based on test results and teacher input. Teachers can assign additional exercises or students can do extra work on their own. Although it’s not used in all grades, Archer said he hopes Odyssey will soon be available in the high school, too.
Overall, Lake County schools were rated neither high nor low, although William Kelley Elementary was named celebration eligible— performing in the top 25 percent of all Title 1 schools.
"The positive thing [about ratings] is that they make schools look at themselves...is what you're doing working or not working?" said Bill Crandall, superintendent of the Lake Superior School District.
During the 2010-11 school year, there was concern that the four-day week would negatively affect students’ academic performance. This has not been the case. "Even with the four-day week, our scores did not drop," Driscoll said.
In preparation for the four-day week, the schools explored ways to streamline and improve instruction and increase student-teacher time each day, Archer said. These preparations made the transition to a four-day week easier.
"The four-day week has given us an opportunity to review a lot of things we were doing," Archer said.
The four-day week also resulted in higher rates of student attendance, which leads to more instruction time. "When kids are here, we can teach them,” Crandall said.
The MMR ratings are better than the old No Child Left Behind system, Crandall said. But there are still some challenges.
Minnehaha Elementary has consistently performed well, Driscoll said, but because the MMR relies heavily on improvement, their success isn’t as visible in the new system.
Size is another problem. In small schools like those in Lake County, one student can significantly influence statistics. For instance, at William Kelley High School, each student can sway the figures by three percentage points. When all is said and done, however, "If we're doing what's best for kids, that's what matters," Archer said.