A report on last year’s academic performance in School District 191 tells a “very, very difficult data story” about learning interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, an administrator told the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School Board Nov. 18.

It includes missed goals for kindergarten readiness, third-grade reading proficiency and four-year high school graduation rates.

“I recognize that it is difficult to hear the story of how emergency pandemic conditions impacted so many of our learners in a negative way,” said Imina Oftedahl, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment. “It is especially difficult knowing the energy and effort that building staff have invested for creating safe environments, both for in-person and virtually, and working first and foremost to build relations and connections with each and every student.”

The report highlights performance on standardized tests under the state-mandated World’s Best Workforce report card and the state Achievement and Integration program in which the district participates.

All district students spent “significant time in full distance learning” during the 2020-21 school year, some the full year, Oftedahl said. A partial return under hybrid learning provided 50% to 75% live instruction, she said.

“Last year I shared our winter data for our elementary students that showed them maintaining their performance levels in almost all cases,” Oftedahl said. But the “ongoing shifts of learning models, hybrid scheduling and the relative isolation of the small pods have taken their toll from the winter to the spring.”

Third-grade reading proficiency in spring 2021 was 34.4% as measured by results from the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment. That’s a drop from 44.2% in 2019 (tests weren’t given in 2020 because of the pandemic). However, only 69% of district students took the test in 2021, compared with 85% statewide. In 2019, the district had 99% participation.

Statewide, 48.5% of students met proficiency in 2021 and 54.6% in 2019.

The district’s 2021 goal was 65.8%.

“One bright spot is the growth of grade three Latinx students from 17% to 25%,” Oftedahl said.

The district’s performance gap in reading proficiency between white students and students of color “saw a very small 1% decrease with questionable validity, since only 58% of students in grades three through 10 participated in the state reading assessment,” Oftedahl said.

The gap for students eligible for free or subsidized meals widened by about 8% in reading proficiency, which Oftedahl called disappointing.

“Not only in ISD 191, but statewide,” she said. “Again, only half the students participated, but statewide, greater participation showed an even greater increase in the gap.”

The district fell far short of kindergarten readiness goals for incoming students as measured by skill in naming letters — a single test benchmark used by World’s Best Workforce and Achievement and Integration.

A total of 35.9% of incoming kindergarteners met the benchmark. The district had previously reached 40.8% and set a goal of 51%.

“The result of 36% shows a significant decline and may reflect the detrimental impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on preschool attendance and programming,” Oftedahl said.

Burnsville High School’s rate of students graduating in four years was 85% in 2020, compared with 84% statewide. The 2020 rate was 82% for Black or African American students, compared with 69% statewide.

The district also outperformed the state by a similar margin in 2019.

“We do continue in 191 to show strong results for our Black and African American students,” Oftedahl said.

Latinx students slid from a four-year graduation rate of 71% in 2019 to 60% in 2020.

“It was very disappointing to see how impacted that community was by the pandemic circumstances and the loss of ground for our graduating seniors,” Oftedahl said. That student group almost met its district goal of 72% in 2019, she noted.

The four-year graduation rate for the district’s small Native and indigenous student population dropped from 60% in 2019, compared with 51% statewide, to 24% in 2020, compared with 56% statewide.

“With very small numbers, the schools struggle to connect and support our Native and indigenous students in our community,” Oftedahl said. The district has a partnership with Minneapolis-based MIGIZI, a youth development nonprofit for Native Americans, she said.

Board Member Scott Hume said standardized tests have been “imprecise, imperfect and incomplete” measures of student abilities, even before COVID.

“Our results were always a challenge, even pre-COVID,” he said. “It’s not surprising that it continues to be a challenge.”

With federal pandemic relief funds earmarked to rebuild learning loss, Hume asked about markers of progress the district will look for.

One is progress in middle school math, given the two schools’ block scheduling and addition of two math interventionists, Oftedahl said.

Better performance on reading skills benchmarks in kindergarten through third grade will also be key, she said.

“The phonics measures are going to be very, very important because that is such a foundational skill,” Oftedahl said.

At the high school level, relief funds have boosted efforts to help students recover lost credits, she said. The district is also working to acclimate incoming students from hybrid or full distance learning last year, she said.

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