Sections

Weather Forecast

Close
Advertisement

Two high schools offer insight as to what AYP doesn't measure

Email

Dan McKeon, director of TrekNorth Junior & Senior High School in Bemidji, has spent a lot of time these past weeks looking for answers to complicated questions.

Advertisement

This year, TrekNorth was one of three school districts in Bemidji that didn't make Annual Yearly Progress. For TrekNorth, it was due to low math scores.

"When I first saw our numbers, I was frustrated because we work hard at our school," McKeon said. "We spent a lot of time really analyzing the way that we teach."

When McKeon looked into the root causes of the low math test scores, he realized the two grades with the lowest scores had something in common.

"Our seventh-graders were all new to Trek and came in with different skill levels," he said. "And of the juniors, only one student had stayed at TrekNorth since the eighth grade."

According to McKeon, he feels that students who stay at TrekNorth for three years or more do well on AYP test scores, Advanced Placement exams and general college readiness.

"It's hard to get students to where they need to be, especially when they come to us when they're far behind," McKeon said. "It's not an excuse, but it adds to the mix."

Voyageur's Expeditionary High School also did not make AYP this year.

School director Julie Johnson-Willborg gave similar testimony as to why the school struggles to make AYP year after year.

"I want every kid to succeed, but these kids are coming in here as a 10th- or 11th-grader," Johnson-Willborg said. "What happened in middle school? What happened in elementary school?"

Johnson-Willborg said she feels grade 9-12 charter schools are set up to serve students in a different way.

And while being a smaller high school means more individualized student attention, it also means the district has between two and three years to get sophomores and juniors to pass the standardized AYP exams.

"Because we are only a 9-12 school, we do not have any control over what the kids are coming to us with," she said. "I'm not making any excuses. I'm only stating a reality."

Bemidji is a unique community that offers parents a lot of school choices. But while freedom of choice has its rewards, it also can cause problems for school districts.

"We do have a high rate of mobility where families move pretty frequently," McKeon said. "Unfortunately, there are kids who school hop. They might go to three different schools for high school. That's not good for the kids and it's not good for the schools. That can make educating a child pretty difficult."

Fixing the problem

McKeon said TrekNorth has a plan to improve math test scores, despite student turnover issues.

At TrekNorth, seventh- and eighth-graders are placed into either pre-algebra or algebra for math. Now, McKeon said, there will be a basic math class added for junior high students.

"The strategy is to differentiate instruction more and meet the kids where they're at with their math skills and bring them along at a nice pace," McKeon said.

With student mobility, McKeon said keeping students at TrekNorth will also be a priority.

"I think the strategies we have are going to help," McKeon said. "I think that time is going to help. I think having these kids under our direction longer will alleviate the problem. It's still frustrating to see the amount of work these teachers put in, and then to see these scores is tough to swallow."

At Voyageur's, Willborg-Johnson said the district is following a corrective action plan, part of No Child Left Behind.

"We are moving forward with bringing in more training for staff," she said. "We are looking more at prescriptive work and diagnosing where the kids' strengths and weaknesses are."

The reality is, she said, that it's a small school. And AYP measures those students who enrolled in school Oct. 1 and who showed up on test day - even if it's only four students, as an example.

Willborg-Johnson said she is not worried that Voyageur's did not make AYP this year. She is hopeful that students will continue to show improvement in skill building.

"I do believe that students' skills improved this past year. Their knowledge of math definitely improved," she said. "We are offering MCA test prep classes, specifically for gearing kids' understanding of how to take the test. We had a little 'oops' in reading this year. We brought in a very good reading program. This coming year, we're moving to 45 minutes of reading every day."

The reauthorization of NCLB has been a hot topic of discussion by school administrators, teachers and staff in recent months, which means eventually things could change as far as AYP.

But until then, the rules are set in place.

"In a lot of ways I believe the NCLB measuring stick is a good one," McKeon said. "After not having made it this year, it forced me, as a school leader, to spend many hours looking at the school data, and then working with the staff and the board to come up with strategies to improve the way we teach kids. If that's what NCLB and AYP gets schools to do then that's a good thing."

Adding a different perspective, Johnson-Willborg said NCLB is good in that it looks for improvement each year, but AYP is too punitive.

"When you're an expeditionary school, your goal is to serve students differently and not do the same thing as the traditional setting is doing," she said. "Our strength is building relationships with kids. I do sincerely want every child to be as successful as he or she can. And for some kids, being successful means being a person who is compassionate and caring. Those are character traits that no test will ever measure."

Y awilliams@bemidjipioneer.com

Dan McKeon, director of TrekNorth Junior & Senior High School in Bemidji, has spent a lot of time these past weeks looking for answers to complicated questions.

This year, TrekNorth was one of three school districts in Bemidji that didn't make Annual Yearly Progress. For TrekNorth, it was due to low math scores.

"When I first saw our numbers, I was frustrated because we work hard at our school," McKeon said. "We spent a lot of time really analyzing the way that we teach."

When McKeon looked into the root causes of the low math test scores, he realized the two grades with the lowest scores had something in common.

"Our seventh-graders were all new to Trek and came in with different skill levels," he said. "And of the juniors, only one student had stayed at TrekNorth since the eighth grade."

According to McKeon, he feels that students who stay at TrekNorth for three years or more do well on AYP test scores, Advanced Placement exams and general college readiness.

"It's hard to get students to where they need to be, especially when they come to us when they're far behind," McKeon said. "It's not an excuse, but it adds to the mix."

Voyageur's Expeditionary High School also did not make AYP this year.

School director Julie Johnson-Willborg gave similar testimony as to why the school struggles to make AYP year after year.

"I want every kid to succeed, but these kids are coming in here as a 10th- or 11th-grader," Johnson-Willborg said. "What happened in middle school? What happened in elementary school?"

Johnson-Willborg said she feels grade 9-12 charter schools are set up to serve students in a different way.

And while being a smaller high school means more individualized student attention, it also means the district has between two and three years to get sophomores and juniors to pass the standardized AYP exams.

"Because we are only a 9-12 school, we do not have any control over what the kids are coming to us with," she said. "I'm not making any excuses. I'm only stating a reality."

Bemidji is a unique community that offers parents a lot of school choices. But while freedom of choice has its rewards, it also can cause problems for school districts.

"We do have a high rate of mobility where families move pretty frequently," McKeon said. "Unfortunately, there are kids who school hop. They might go to three different schools for high school. That's not good for the kids and it's not good for the schools. That can make educating a child pretty difficult."

Fixing the problem

McKeon said TrekNorth has a plan to improve math test scores, despite student turnover issues.

At TrekNorth, seventh- and eighth-graders are placed into either pre-algebra or algebra for math. Now, McKeon said, there will be a basic math class added for junior high students.

"The strategy is to differentiate instruction more and meet the kids where they're at with their math skills and bring them along at a nice pace," McKeon said.

With student mobility, McKeon said keeping students at TrekNorth will also be a priority.

"I think the strategies we have are going to help," McKeon said. "I think that time is going to help. I think having these kids under our direction longer will alleviate the problem. It's still frustrating to see the amount of work these teachers put in, and then to see these scores is tough to swallow."

At Voyageur's, Willborg-Johnson said the district is following a corrective action plan, part of No Child Left Behind.

"We are moving forward with bringing in more training for staff," she said. "We are looking more at prescriptive work and diagnosing where the kids' strengths and weaknesses are."

The reality is, she said, that it's a small school. And AYP measures those students who enrolled in school Oct. 1 and who showed up on test day - even if it's only four students, as an example.

Willborg-Johnson said she is not worried that Voyageur's did not make AYP this year. She is hopeful that students will continue to show improvement in skill building.

"I do believe that students' skills improved this past year. Their knowledge of math definitely improved," she said. "We are offering MCA test prep classes, specifically for gearing kids' understanding of how to take the test. We had a little 'oops' in reading this year. We brought in a very good reading program. This coming year, we're moving to 45 minutes of reading every day."

The reauthorization of NCLB has been a hot topic of discussion by school administrators, teachers and staff in recent months, which means eventually things could change as far as AYP.

But until then, the rules are set in place.

"In a lot of ways I believe the NCLB measuring stick is a good one," McKeon said. "After not having made it this year, it forced me, as a school leader, to spend many hours looking at the school data, and then working with the staff and the board to come up with strategies to improve the way we teach kids. If that's what NCLB and AYP gets schools to do then that's a good thing."

Adding a different perspective, Johnson-Willborg said NCLB is good in that it looks for improvement each year, but AYP is too punitive.

"When you're an expeditionary school, your goal is to serve students differently and not do the same thing as the traditional setting is doing," she said. "Our strength is building relationships with kids. I do sincerely want every child to be as successful as he or she can. And for some kids, being successful means being a person who is compassionate and caring. Those are character traits that no test will ever measure."

awilliams@bemidjipioneer.com

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement