Improvement falls short of district’s goals

World’s Best Workforce measures show the school district making progress and that more work is needed

by Kurt Nesbitt

Contributing Writer

Efforts to get all students in the Elk River Area School District ready for their next level meant some improvement at several levels, but still fell a little short of stated goals.

District officials heard at the Nov. 12 meeting the latest batch of statistics measured under the World’s Best Workforce program, a state initiative similar to No Child Left Behind meant to address Minnesota’s aging workforce and academic achievement gaps.

School board directors had until Nov. 15 to comment on the program. They are expected to vote on new goals Nov. 25.

Joe Stangler, the district’s director of research and assessment, said one goal was to have the percentage of students reading before third grade go from 93% to 97%; it actually increased to 94%. District officials aimed to have student scores on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments improve from 66% proficient to 72%; however, proficiency rose to 71%.

The achievement gap for at-risk learners decreased from 30% to 22%.

Officials wanted the percentage of students meeting one standard for ACT readiness to go from 78% to 81%, but it fell to 75%, despite the fact that students on average, scored 21.4 on the ACT — the state average.

Officials also wanted the graduation rate in District 728 schools to improve, but it stayed at 91%, which is still 8% higher than the state average.

The World’s Best Workforce goals proposed for this coming year will essentially be to meet last year’s goals. Officials will again seek to increase the overall “meets or exceeds expectation” percentage of spring early childhood student development assessments in Teaching Strategies Gold from 94% to 97%, increase Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment proficiency on the grade 3 reading test from 71% to 73%, close the achievement gap of at-risk learners from 30% to 22% based on reading and math MCA results, increase the percentage of students meeting at least one of the ACT readiness standards from 75% to 83% and improve the four-year graduation rate from 91% to 93%.

Tricia Sandford, curriculum specialist, noted the state Achievement and Integration Act means the district is eligible for funding because it adjoins Osseo and Anoka, which are racially isolated districts. She also noted in district documents that the achievement and integration plan is a three-year plan, and while officials don’t write new goals each year, they track them from year to year.

Officials sought to narrow the reading achievement gap from 27.5%  to 20% by June 2020 as measured by the results on the MCA reading accountability tests, which are administered annually in grades 3-8 and 10. The gap increased to 31% for all at-risk learners The racial gap in reading was reduced to 8.9% and the economic gap was reduced to 19.3% in reading.

Within that goal, the district sought to increase the reading proficiency scores of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch from 54.6% to 62.6% by June 2020 as measured by the results on the MCA reading tests, which are administered annually in grades 3-8 and 10. Proficiency increased from 52.7% to 54.2%, thereby causing the gap to decrease from 21% to 19.3%.

They also wanted to increase the reading proficiency scores of students of color from 59.5% to 67.6% by June 2020, as measured by the results on the MCA reading tests, which are administered annually in grades 3-8 and 10. Proficiency increased from 60.5% to 62.5%, reducing the gap by 1.9%.

The report includes bar graphs showing student reading proficiency by race or by free and reduced lunch. Overall, District 728 students in seven categories averaged 73% proficient in reading, while the state averaged 48%. American Indian students in ISD 728 averaged close to 70% proficient in reading, while the state average was closer to 40%.

Officials also had an integration goal for this year. They sought to ensure educational equity for students and families by instituting educational practices, policies, curricula, and learning environments that increase racial and economic integration and foster inclusiveness. That progress is measured by an increase in ratings of “applying” and “exemplary” from 26% to 53% on the Minnesota Department of Education Achievement and Integration rubric, a scoring guide based on criteria set by that department. The report says 53% of the indicators are now present at the “accomplished” or “exemplary” level.

Director Joel Nelson told the Star News it will always be a struggle to get 100% on any of these categories. He also noted that some of the state-mandated programs are good in theory but hard to totally implement and attain.

“We are dealing with human beings who each have minds of their own,” Nelson said.. “I am proud of where we stand against the national and state averages.”

Nelson asked if the referendum will help students in the district achieve better results.

Superintendent Dan Bittman said there will be meetings with stakeholders that will go into plans that will direct projects that will make “more and better programs”

Bittman said district officials are grateful for the continued partnership with students and families

“We remain committed to all learners,” Bittman said, emphasizing the word “all.” “Our student achievement is amongst the best in the state and we are proud to be ranked No. 1 in reading and math compared to districts of similar sizes (according to MCA results).”

Bittman said the district recognizes there is more to do.

“Our community’s commitment to and investment in our students, college and career readiness, and rigor are worthy of commendation and much appreciated,” Bittman said.

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