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Closing the gap: Bemidji schools continue to improve math scores, but haven't met state average yet

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

The results of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment-IIs are in. While this might not mean much to some, school districts pay close attention to the numbers.

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Kathy Palm, the Bemidji School District's director of curriculum, said she's seen improvements in reading and math scores from the 2009-10 MCA-II tests.

Students completed math and reading tests at various grade levels this past school year. Depending on which test was taken, an MCA-II test or a GRAD test, or both, the test results are huge indications of students' academic growth and achievement.

To receive a high school diploma, students graduating in 2010 and beyond need to pass the MCA-II GRAD writing and reading test. They will also need to take the MCA-II GRAD math test a minimum of three times with remediation.

"MCAs are needed for measuring schools and districts to see if they're being accountable," Palm said.

Bemidji School District includes Bemidji Alternative Education Center, Bemidji Youth Learning and Working, Bemidji High School, First City School, Lumberjack Alternative Learning Center, Oshki Manidoo and six elementary schools.

In regard to how much time and money is spent dealing with state testing throughout the school year, Palm said teachers and staff really feel the effect.

"There's so much to teach. We're really focused on reading and math more than anything else because we're being tested there, but we still have science, social studies and health," Palm said. "Quite frankly, when you look at the standards and what's expected of our teachers, it's pretty tough to do all that."

Writing

Ninth-graders in the Bemidji School District completed their writing GRAD exam in April. While this test isn't counted toward AYP at the federal level, students must pass it in order to graduate from high school. In fact, students must pass all their GRAD exams in order to graduate.

Ninth-graders from First City School are showing big improvements in math proficiency, increasing by 15 percent since 2007. However, as a district, the number of students proficient in writing has gone down.

As a district, 88 percent of ninth-graders are proficient in writing, compared to the state average of 90.6 percent. While Bemidji High School holds its own at roughly 90 percent proficiency, Lumberjack High School has decreased in writing proficiency by almost 14 percent since 2007.

Palm said one possible reason why the ninth-graders, as a whole, were below the state average in proficiency was because of a change in state mandated exams.

"The high school has usually outscored the state. This year they did not," Palm said. "Last year's 10th-graders were the last class that took the MCA writing test in grade 5. This year's ninth-graders never had that MCA writing test. Once that test went away, I think a lot of the emphasis in writing went away."

Palm said seeing a dip in numbers is a good sign for her to tell teachers to pay more attention to writing in the future.

Reading

Bemidji outperformed the state in MCA-II reading scores again this year. As a whole, the district posted 74.4 percent of its students proficient in reading compared to a state average of 72.3 percent.

American Indian students increased proficiency in reading by 7 percent. Black students increased by almost 25 percent. Fifth-graders, combined, marked 81.2 percent proficiency in reading, compared to a state average of 76.4 percent.

Palm also noted that 10th-grade reading proficiency was higher than eighth-grade reading proficiency levels.

"It's like once they get into high school, because it's so much more challenging, students step it up. I think that's why we're seeing a nice increase there."

This year, according to Palm, the district will be reviewing all its reading and language arts curricula.

"Some of the things we did this year that are going to help, but won't show up for a while, is we started Reading Recovery program, where we took first-graders who were at the lowest 20 percent of reading abilities and gave them one-on-one reading instruction a half-hour every day."

Additionally, Palm said, the district introduced a Leveled Literacy Intervention program, which helped students in grades K-3 with reading.

"We really focused on catching kids early. I think it will help a lot in the future," Palm said.

Math

Bemidji School District is continuing to close the gap with state math scores. This year the state outperformed the district in math by less than 1 percent.

Sixty-five percent of students in the district are proficient in math, compared to a state average of 65.9 percent.

Since 2007 the all-students group has increased in math proficiency. Students receiving free and reduced lunch increased by 9.6 percent from last year and students with high mobility increased by 15.6 percent.

"We are really improving," Palm said. "The big thing is we made the big changes at the elementary levels."

Palm said a program called Everyday Mathematics was added to every school and has helped make improvements.

"We provided training for teachers on a continual basis. We really hit it hard. Our elementary schools are actually above the state in math," she said.

Sixth grade increased its math proficiency by 17.7 percent from last year.

However, middle school students continue to lag behind the state in math scores. But Palm said the numbers have improved this year.

"Last year we were not really happy with the middle school results. Their numbers were down," Palm said. "We see this year the middle school improved at every grade level in reading and math."

Palm hopes helping students with math at the elementary school levels is critical.

"We're hoping that as we work on our elementary kids, their levels will be that much better that they will continue to be that much stronger in math as they get older," she said.

Bemidji Youth Learning and Working, Alternative Education Center, Oshki Manidoo Center and Lumberjack Alternative Learning Center reported zero students proficient in math.

Palm said district numbers are often brought down by the alternative student proficiency levels.

"These schools are geared towards students who have struggled or have learning problems, so I guess we expect them to have low proficiency; not that we like it, but we're working towards improving them."

An area of concern

In looking at test results from the student subgroup of special education, Palm said, the trends aren't great.

"With NCLB, the target is going up and up every year while our special education students keep getting further behind," she said.

The special education students' subgroup was the only subgroup below the state averages in both reading and in math. This is a big area of concern for Palm.

"The test levels go up but these kids' scores don't necessarily go up, because they have learning disabilities," she said.

At first, Palm admitted, it bothered her to analyze subgroups of students, such as special education students, but she said seeing growth in all students was important.

"I think every kid can improve," Palm said. "The punitive part of NLCB is a district can see awesome test scores, but a small subgroup that didn't make proficiency can make it so the district doesn't make Annual Yearly Progress. It calls attention to these groups."

Recommendations

Overall, Palm said she is happy with the test results.

"We showed growth and our reading is above the state. Our math is closer than ever before," she said. "Next year I'm planning on outdoing the state in math. Even though at the middle school we're below the state, we still showed improvement."

Palm awaits official word from the Minnesota Department of Education on whether the district and its schools have made Annual Yearly Progress, a requirement of the federal No Child Left Behind act.

Y awilliams@bemidjipioneer.com

The results of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment-IIs are in. While this might not mean much to some, school districts pay close attention to the numbers.

Kathy Palm, the Bemidji School District's director of curriculum, said she's seen improvements in reading and math scores from the 2009-10 MCA-II tests.

Students completed math and reading tests at various grade levels this past school year. Depending on which test was taken, an MCA-II test or a GRAD test, or both, the test results are huge indications of students' academic growth and achievement.

To receive a high school diploma, students graduating in 2010 and beyond need to pass the MCA-II GRAD writing and reading test. They will also need to take the MCA-II GRAD math test a minimum of three times with remediation.

"MCAs are needed for measuring schools and districts to see if they're being accountable," Palm said.

Bemidji School District includes Bemidji Alternative Education Center, Bemidji Youth Learning and Working, Bemidji High School, First City School, Lumberjack Alternative Learning Center, Oshki Manidoo and six elementary schools.

In regard to how much time and money is spent dealing with state testing throughout the school year, Palm said teachers and staff really feel the effect.

"There's so much to teach. We're really focused on reading and math more than anything else because we're being tested there, but we still have science, social studies and health," Palm said. "Quite frankly, when you look at the standards and what's expected of our teachers, it's pretty tough to do all that."

Writing

Ninth-graders in the Bemidji School District completed their writing GRAD exam in April. While this test isn't counted toward AYP at the federal level, students must pass it in order to graduate from high school. In fact, students must pass all their GRAD exams in order to graduate.

Ninth-graders from First City School are showing big improvements in math proficiency, increasing by 15 percent since 2007. However, as a district, the number of students proficient in writing has gone down.

As a district, 88 percent of ninth-graders are proficient in writing, compared to the state average of 90.6 percent. While Bemidji High School holds its own at roughly 90 percent proficiency, Lumberjack High School has decreased in writing proficiency by almost 14 percent since 2007.

Palm said one possible reason why the ninth-graders, as a whole, were below the state average in proficiency was because of a change in state mandated exams.

"The high school has usually outscored the state. This year they did not," Palm said. "Last year's 10th-graders were the last class that took the MCA writing test in grade 5. This year's ninth-graders never had that MCA writing test. Once that test went away, I think a lot of the emphasis in writing went away."

Palm said seeing a dip in numbers is a good sign for her to tell teachers to pay more attention to writing in the future.

Reading

Bemidji outperformed the state in MCA-II reading scores again this year. As a whole, the district posted 74.4 percent of its students proficient in reading compared to a state average of 72.3 percent.

American Indian students increased proficiency in reading by 7 percent. Black students increased by almost 25 percent. Fifth-graders, combined, marked 81.2 percent proficiency in reading, compared to a state average of 76.4 percent.

Palm also noted that 10th-grade reading proficiency was higher than eighth-grade reading proficiency levels.

"It's like once they get into high school, because it's so much more challenging, students step it up. I think that's why we're seeing a nice increase there."

This year, according to Palm, the district will be reviewing all its reading and language arts curricula.

"Some of the things we did this year that are going to help, but won't show up for a while, is we started Reading Recovery program, where we took first-graders who were at the lowest 20 percent of reading abilities and gave them one-on-one reading instruction a half-hour every day."

Additionally, Palm said, the district introduced a Leveled Literacy Intervention program, which helped students in grades K-3 with reading.

"We really focused on catching kids early. I think it will help a lot in the future," Palm said.

Math

Bemidji School District is continuing to close the gap with state math scores. This year the state outperformed the district in math by less than 1 percent.

Sixty-five percent of students in the district are proficient in math, compared to a state average of 65.9 percent.

Since 2007 the all-students group has increased in math proficiency. Students receiving free and reduced lunch increased by 9.6 percent from last year and students with high mobility increased by 15.6 percent.

"We are really improving," Palm said. "The big thing is we made the big changes at the elementary levels."

Palm said a program called Everyday Mathematics was added to every school and has helped make improvements.

"We provided training for teachers on a continual basis. We really hit it hard. Our elementary schools are actually above the state in math," she said.

Sixth grade increased its math proficiency by 17.7 percent from last year.

However, middle school students continue to lag behind the state in math scores. But Palm said the numbers have improved this year.

"Last year we were not really happy with the middle school results. Their numbers were down," Palm said. "We see this year the middle school improved at every grade level in reading and math."

Palm hopes helping students with math at the elementary school levels is critical.

"We're hoping that as we work on our elementary kids, their levels will be that much better that they will continue to be that much stronger in math as they get older," she said.

Bemidji Youth Learning and Working, Alternative Education Center, Oshki Manidoo Center and Lumberjack Alternative Learning Center reported zero students proficient in math.

Palm said district numbers are often brought down by the alternative student proficiency levels.

"These schools are geared towards students who have struggled or have learning problems, so I guess we expect them to have low proficiency; not that we like it, but we're working towards improving them."

An area of concern

In looking at test results from the student subgroup of special education, Palm said, the trends aren't great.

"With NCLB, the target is going up and up every year while our special education students keep getting further behind," she said.

The special education students' subgroup was the only subgroup below the state averages in both reading and in math. This is a big area of concern for Palm.

"The test levels go up but these kids' scores don't necessarily go up, because they have learning disabilities," she said.

At first, Palm admitted, it bothered her to analyze subgroups of students, such as special education students, but she said seeing growth in all students was important.

"I think every kid can improve," Palm said. "The punitive part of NLCB is a district can see awesome test scores, but a small subgroup that didn't make proficiency can make it so the district doesn't make Annual Yearly Progress. It calls attention to these groups."

Recommendations

Overall, Palm said she is happy with the test results.

"We showed growth and our reading is above the state. Our math is closer than ever before," she said. "Next year I'm planning on outdoing the state in math. Even though at the middle school we're below the state, we still showed improvement."

Palm awaits official word from the Minnesota Department of Education on whether the district and its schools have made Annual Yearly Progress, a requirement of the federal No Child Left Behind act.

awilliams@bemidjipioneer.com

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