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Schools celebrate student improvements

BEMIDJI - Scott Anderson had good reason to boast about Schoolcraft Learning Community this week as the state's Department of Education released student test results, but he was modest about his students' achievements.

Schoolcraft was the only area school to score 100 percent on one of the comprehensive assessment and marked high scores in middle and high school math and reading.

"You kind of pat yourself on the back with one hand but kind of shake your finger and keep reminding people that there are so many other tremendous things happening in every school," Anderson said. "(A test) is just a snapshot of a kid's experience in school."

On Wednesday, the Education Department released student performance assessments and graduation test scores in math, reading and writing.

The Bemidji School District performed well in testing, said Kathy Palm, director of curriculum for the district.

Throughout Bemidji School District, more than 70 percent of third- through eighth-graders met or exceeded state standards for reading. More than 75 percent of third- and eighth-graders did so with math as well.

"We've done a lot of work to get those scores up," Palm said. "We had excellent increases in math. It's something we've been working on for a long time."

Palm noted most subgroups of students meet or exceed state averages in testing, but extra attention will be paid to special education students, which comprise 15 to 18 percent of the district's students.

Bemidji School District staff will convene Aug. 13 for an annual data retreat. Administrators and teachers break into teams to analyze all of the testing data and develop plans and goals.

"It's crucial to our school improvement planning," Palm said. "It's made a huge difference."

Several successful programs have been implemented in the past, including Read 180, a program for middle and high school students who may have reading difficulties.

With nearly 85 percent of Bemidji High School students passing their graduation reading test and more than 70 percent of middle school students passing their comprehensive reading tests, Palm said the program has made huge gains.

"Those things are really helping out," she said. "The best thing is seeing kids succeed and seeing how they feel about it."

Charter schools in the area also were fairly successful in testing.

Schoolcraft was the only local school to score a perfect score; 100 percent of all seventh-graders met or exceeded state standards for reading. More than 93 percent of all middle-schoolers did so for reading.

More than 91 percent of TrekNorth Junior and Senior High School students passed the graduation test for reading and writing.

Seventy percent of students at Voyageurs Expeditionary High School passed the ninth-grade graduation writing test.

Tests also revealed areas where schools could improve.

With just one exception, the percent of those who passed math tests in all grades at all schools were lower than those for reading and writing. The exception was Solway Elementary third-graders. Eighty percent met or exceeded state averages in math while 77.5 percent did so for reading.

Comparing one school to another through test scores alone isn't always fair.

Charter schools, for instance, have smaller enrollments so the number of students being tested is lower than that of a larger district such as Bemidji.

Schoolcraft's perfect reading score, for instance, took into account 11 students' performance.

Anderson, while obviously happy with that result, was just as pleased to see that, as a whole, Schoolcraft students' math scores increased 16 percent.

"There are so many layers to whatever school you are talking about and so many great things that happen that just don't show up on a piece of paper or a website," he said. "It's kind of gratifying to be No. 1 ... but it's not really what we're about. We're not a district that teaches to the test."

Some data isn't available for all schools. Occasionally, a student population group won't be large enough to determine a test result. That was the case with Lumberjack Alternative Learning Center in Bemidji. Only eight students were tested for math so the school's test results in that category were not made public.

Palm said that is to protect the students themselves. With only eight students, there is a greater chance someone could determine a student's individual performance.

In other cases, test results might look incomplete. TrekNorth, for instance, doesn't have test results available for sixth-graders simply because the charter school teaches those in grades seven to 12.

Additional data with the tests will be released later this month as the Department of Education releases the information about how well individual schools are meeting Minnesota's expectations.