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Frazee gets high marks

The Frazee-Vergas School District can stick not just one but two feathers in its cap.

While the Minnesota Department of Education dictates what grades will test in what subjects for the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, overall the district is above average in science and reading. It struggles with math at the high school level, though.

In the high school, in the spring of this year, grade seven tested in math and reading, eighth-graders tested in math, reading and science, 10th grade tested in reading and science and 11th grade tested in math.

Ninth- and 12th-graders don't initially take the tests, only if they fail a previous year and must retake the test.

In science, the most successful subject for the Frazee-Vergas students, the eighth-graders tested 8 percent higher than the Minnesota average, and the 10th-graders tested 9 percent higher than the Minnesota average.

In reading, seventh-graders tested 5 percent lower than the Minnesota average, eighth-graders tested 6 percent higher than average, and the 10th-graders tested only 1 percent lower than the state average.

Math is where the district is struggling.

Seventh-graders tested 9 percent lower than average, eighth-graders tested 12 percent lower and 11th-graders tested 16 percent lower than the Minnesota average.

"Our site council has come up with a building goal to work on data analysis in the math piece, so each and every department is going to focus a little bit on data analysis," Principal Rob Nudell said.

The Department of Education has standards and regulations regarding math that can cause some problems for students, the schools and testing averages.

"The hard part with the math, and I think most administrators throughout the state would tell you this, is that the math, you don't have to pass," Nudell said. "If you pass it, you're done, you can graduate. Or, you can fail it three times."

If a student fails as a junior, retakes it as a senior and still fails it, the state lets them graduate anyway. Not so with reading -- it has to be passed to graduate.

"We want our kids to study, do their best and pass it (math), but kids know, 'I don't have to pass it, it's not a high stakes test,'" he said.

Some kids have the drive and pride to retake it just to pass though, even if they don't have to, he added.

Why the state would set such different standards between the subjects, Nudell said he has no idea.

"You have to pass the reading piece. I think they feel the math is pretty rigorous, and I think they're trying to find a balancing act to make that work and play out."

The science portion of the test is just a benchmark for the school; it doesn't have the same pass-fail standards as reading or math.

"It's a good way for us to look at how we're meeting our standards and at our curriculum, just to see how we've done, and we feel we've done pretty well," Nudell said. "There's always room for improvement, but being at or above state average, with our free and reduced numbers, we feel pretty good about it."

There is talk at the state level, though, he added, that in a year or two, students will have to pass the science portion in order to graduate as well.

There is no special prep for the MCA tests, he said, it's simply in-class work throughout the year.

"We have teachers look at standards, take a look at item samples, use staff development time where staff can get together and plan," he said.

Teachers also offer study groups and classes before the test for any students who want to utilize them.

Frazee-Vergas students have always been pretty consistent on their scores, with the elementary school placing very high in the state a couple years ago with its science scores.

In the elementary, sixth-graders tested 14 percent higher than the Minnesota average in reading. Fifth-graders tested 9 percent higher than average and third-graders tested 11 percent higher. The fourth-graders fell 4 percent behind the state average.

In math, sixth-graders tested 20.6 percent higher than the state average, fifth-graders tested 6 percent below average, fourth-graders tested 1 percent above, and third-graders were 4.5 percent higher than the Minnesota average.

In science, fifth-graders were the only ones that tested, and they scored 36 percent higher than the state average.

Dean of Student Troy Haugen said the elementary students have been consistent in their numbers from year to year.

"We're above state average in about every area with a couple exceptions. Grade four reading and grade five math, and they are just anomalies, which (happen) every year," he said.

At the elementary, it's simply classroom instruction before testing, no special cram sessions.

"Our staff does a very, very good job spending time making sure our standards are covered and that's really what it comes down to. Our staff works very hard and takes their assessments very seriously."

Nudell said there's always room for improvement in any area, but the staff has been pleased with science and reading.

As for the math improvements, Nudell said the high school has already started on implementing improvements to bring the scores up for the next round of testing in the spring.

"We sat down with our math teachers a week ago and said, 'all right, what areas were good for us in math and what weren't so good.' Data analysis was for sure one we struggled with," he said.

The math test is broken down into four categories -- numbers and operations, algebra, geometry and measurement and data analysis. From there, staff can see which areas students struggled in most.

"We thought data analysis is something across the board we could do a better job on."

And it's not just a math issue, he added. It's something the entire school can work on to improve. English can improve in their diagram readings; shop class can help with measurements and data.

"We've got a neat goal in place so hopefully we can improve that area and build upon it from there," Nudell said.

And with a plan in place for a boost in math scores at the high school, the district is quite pleased with testing results.

"It's good reflection of great kids and great staff," Haugen said.