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Detroit Lakes Public Schools ponders how best to improve test scores

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news Detroit Lakes, 56501

Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Educators around the country, including in Detroit Lakes, are having a tough time figuring out how to analyze data from standardized tests that students take throughout the school year.

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In light of No Child Left Behind requirements that require a certain number of students to be proficient in math and reading, a number of methods are being developed to figure out how best to improve students' test scores.

Detroit Lakes Public Schools Education Director Lowell Niklaus presented the results of one of those methods, the Minnesota Growth Model, during Monday's School Board meeting.

"The whole concept of growth is drawing a lot more attention at the state level and the local level," Niklaus said. "It's something we've been dealing with over the years."

Instead of just presenting results of who passed or failed certain tests, a growth model tracks an individual student's performance year by year.

Niklaus compared a growth model approach to tracking a child's height.

"Compare it to your kids when they were young," Niklaus told the board. "You put a little notch in the door and the next year, you measure them again and put another little notch, and see how much they grew over time.

"It's the same principle, but a little more complicated than putting a notch in the door."

There are some issues with that approach though. The state uses two models, one for federal Title I programs and another one for general use, which is the Minnesota Growth Model.

"There is obviously a conflict with the state that has to be worked through and we will let them deal with that," Niklaus said.

The Minnesota Growth Model compares results from the 2006-07 school year to 2007-08 results for the MCA-II exams.

Data analysis for math exams have an added urgency this year as 11th graders need to be proficient in math based on MCA-II results in order to graduate.

This year's growth model doesn't take into account high school students because they take only one MCA-II math test in their high school careers - in the 11th grade. Those students' last MCA-II math tests were taken in the eighth grade.

The growth model splits students into six categories. Divided into whether students are proficient or not, it is further divided into low, medium or high growth.

But the downside of that model is that in does not take into account students who perform extremely well from year-to-year and then can't be considered to be growing at a high level because there is a limit on how high they can score.

Niklaus said that the Minnesota Growth Model's statistics are misleading because the starting point of how students did the previous year isn't known.

"The question that needs to be answered is how many kids were scoring very high to start with," he said. "If you look at the data, the range for proficiency is quite a large range."

Newly elected Board member Barbara Boyle questioned the use of this growth model approach.

"It's not showing where your needs are," Boyle said.

Board member Dr. Thomas Seaworth said that school boards around the state should speak out on the issue. His comment comes as the Minnesota School Boards Association is due to hold a Leadership Conference later this week.

"If the data we are going to use or report is not helping us help kids, then we need to speak up to say we need to do a better job for our kids," Seaworth said.

The district does use its own model for improvement. The Measure of Academic Progress exams give local educators individualized reports.

Niklaus said that MAP tests are accessible by teachers to help students in need of a boost.

"This to us is a more accurate and usable type of growth data than what the state is using," Niklaus said.

The concept of growth is being used much more than it has in the past, Niklaus said. He said that growth models provide context to test scores that are deeper than just listing who is proficient or not.

That can be important in cases where the proficiency level of a class may be low, but their individual improvement may have been great over the course of the school year.

In other action, the Board:

- Reappointed Tom Klyve as the chairman, David Langworthy was chosen as the new vice-chairman, newly-elected Board member Cyndi Anderson is clerk and Terrie Boyd is treasurer.

- Superintendent Doug Froke said the new wrestling building is on track for completion by Feb. 1.

- Froke commented on a proposal by lawmakers that districts save money by consolidating services and only buy from a master list. Froke said that cutting out local businesses would be detrimental for the community.

"We go and ask local businesses to support us in the form of operating levies," Froke said. "Then think of that person being exed out from a master list. That's an awful hard thing to explain to our local businesses."

- Froke also reported on the developments regarding the state budget deficit. He said that while some legislators have said that will spare K-12 education from severe cuts, Froke said that may not be the case due to the projected $4.85 billion deficit for the 2009-10 biennium.

Pawlenty plans to release his proposed budget on Jan. 27.

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