The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 12, 2014

Mankato Schools closing the gap

Report shows which districts meeting achievement targets

By Amanda Dyslin

---- — Mankato Area Public Schools is on track when it comes to closing the achievement gap, according to a new report released Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Education.

Looking at both math and reading results from the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments test, the report outlines the number of “newly proficient students” that were needed in each district to reach the 2013 target in each student group. Student groups include Asian, Hispanic, black, white, English language learners, free and reduced lunch, and special education.

The Department of Education set the goal of reducing the achievement gap by 50 percent by 2017. Each year the target for closing the gap is set a little higher. The report helps districts see whether they are “ahead of the game,” right on target, or by exactly how many students they fell short of meeting the target, said Josh Collins, director of communications for the department.

All student groups in the Mankato district exceeded 2013 benchmarks in math and reading. Gwen Walz, assessment coordinator for the district, and Heather Mueller, director of teaching and learning, said the report shows the tireless work districtwide in ensuring every student is learning.

“The MCA is really a systems check on how we're doing as a district, within the system that we've developed,” Mueller said. “Our teachers have been instrumental. A plan is just a plan unless you have people who can live it.”

St. Peter Public Schools also exceeded targets in both math and reading.

“We feel very good about that. We've worked really hard at trying to help all students be successful academically,” said Supt. Jeff Olson. “I think it really does validate the hard work that the staff puts in to make sure every student is successful.”

Nicollet Public Schools exceeded targets for all student groups in reading but fell three students short in the white student group for meeting the target in math.

Other area districts that met or exceeded targets for all student groups in reading include:

Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial (LCWM), Sleepy Eye, Springfield and New Ulm. Those that met or exceeded targets for all student groups in math include Springfield and Sleepy Eye.

"New Ulm is proud of the work our staff and students have done over the past year. The data shows their hard work is producing dividends," said New Ulm Supt. Jeff Bertrang in a written statement.

"We were aware in the fall that we had an achievement gap with our special education population and some math scores at our elementary level."

"Based on that data, the schools worked on staff development, curriculum review and instructional strategies that were put in place to help these groups move in a positive direction. The teachers are working with a new math curriculum this year and we are incorporating new strategies to positively affect student growth in the elementary grades."

St. Clair fell short by 24 white students in math and 16 white students in reading. New Ulm fell short by 15 white students and five special education students in math. LCWM needed nine more white students to meet the target in math.

Le Sueur Henderson came up short in math in the following student groups: 47 white, three Hispanic, two English language learners, two special education, and eight free and reduced-lunch students. In reading, the district needed one more Hispanic student and 33 white students to meet the target.

Walz said the report shows one piece of the state accountability system, the Multiple Measurement Ratings, to help districts discern if they are moving in the right direction.

“This is very helpful in a summative sense to understand where we are in our progression,” she said.