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Area school districts boost scores

The Ulen-Hitterdal School District gained a whopping 10 percentage points in math proficiency. Pelican Rapids, where almost a quarter of students are non-native speakers of English, boosted its reading scores. Barnesville slipped in reading even as it remained the area's math champion.

It's test score time in Minnesota.

Most school districts in the region, including Moorhead, scored modest gains on Minnesota's annual reading and math tests, the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, which count heavily toward hitting improvement targets under No Child Left Behind. The Minnesota Department of Education released district-by-district scores Monday.

The state as a whole saw slight increases in scores, which Department of Education officials predicted won't suffice to reach annual improvement goals under the federal law.

The department expects more districts will fail to meet these goals, known as Adequate Yearly Progress, compared to last year.

AYP results, which also factor in attendance, graduation rates and performance of student subgroups, will be released in early August.

"You're always holding your breath until the AYP comes out," said Moorhead Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Lynne Kovash.

Test criteria

The MCAs test students in grades three through eight and 10th in reading, and in grades three through eight and 11th in math. Test-takers land in one of four categories - does not meet standards, partially meets standards, meets standards and exceeds standards - with students in the latter two groups deemed proficient.

Statewide, 10th-graders scored a 9 percent gain in reading after the test became a graduation requirement for that grade, motivating students to do well.

Starting next year, the 11th-grade math MCAs will count toward graduation.

Education officials hope the change will arrest a precipitous drop in test scores in that grade, when proficiency often dips to 20 percent or less.

More schools to falter

Despite the gains, officials expect more schools will join the 729 out of 1,918 state schools that don't meet AYP.

Test score requirements rise each year in keeping with a federal goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014.

Kovash expects the Moorhead district to meet AYP again this year. The district raised its reading and math scores and remained comfortably above state averages.

"When I saw the scores, I was pretty excited," she said. "We're making slow but sure gains toward improvement for our students."

She said she fields calls from numerous state districts asking for the secret to Moorhead's high math scores, which she credited to coaching and a practical problem-solving approach to teaching the subject.

Ulen-Hitterdal made the most sizeable strides in reading and math among area districts, though its scores remained below the state average.

Julie Mies, the district's testing coordinator, says the efforts of new reading and math teachers and curricula changes paid off.

Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton also boosted its reading and math scores by several percentage points, and retiring Superintendent Bernie Lipp expressed hope the district would meet AYP after its special education student scores tripped it up several years in a row.

"It was nice to see our test scores pop up," Lipp said. "It looks like our plans for school improvement are working."

The Education Department didn't release data for subgroups such as special education students and minorities, though a news release said the state hadn't made progress in closing achievement gaps. Subgroup test scores and graduation rates keep many districts from meeting No Child Left Behind requirements. The number of schools failing to meet AYP increased last year, from 483 schools out of 1,405 in the state the year before.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529