Schools use precision tools to reduce achievement gap
This is the third part of a series of stories about Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District’s development of strategies for the 2017-18 Achievement and Integration plan. Previous stories are at SunThisweek.com/tag/District-196-AI.
When achievement gap talk surfaces, it’s often referenced in big data.
Testing gaps between white and minority students and those based on a student’s household’s income are often viewed at the state, district and school level.
But Glacier Hills Elementary School of Arts and Science Principal Scott Thomas, who served as Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District’s integration and educational equity coordinator for seven years, sees the achievement gap close one data point at a time. District 196 school principals and teachers have a whole host of assessment data available them that can pinpoint a student’s academic challenge down to individual letters in the English language.
They use this data to design in-class and out-of-classroom interventions for students to overcome their challenges, whether it is writing a letter correctly, knowing how to spell a word or comprehending a literary work.
“There is the art of teaching,” Thomas said. “This is the science of teaching.”
Thomas, who serves on the district’s Racially Isolated Schools Community Collaboration Council, says the culture among teachers and staff is that they know the consequences of a child not mastering a particular task or concept, so it’s imperative they help the student.
He says they use data from tests like the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments in math, reading and science to confirm or reveal where students are struggling.
Thomas says when a student’s challenge is identified, the school contacts parents to get them involved right away. A goal of the district’s 2017-18 Achievement and Integration plan is to increase parent involvement even more.
Every eight weeks, teams of teachers at Glacier Hills meet to talk about each student and what can be done to help them be more successful.
Teachers and staff use a variety of remediation strategies ranging from brief one-on-one interactions in class to working with specialists outside of class.
A student might go through a study guide series to reinforce a concept, but remedial or enrichment for individuals or small groups are integrated in the classroom day so they often don’t feel or look special.
In addition, District 196 schools use Multi-Tier Systems of Support specialists who give one-on-one or small group instruction throughout the day.
In one Glacier Hills class on Monday morning, an MTSS coach was working with a small group to reinforce concepts they needed help with. Once the students were done with their mini-project, they were going to present it to the class.
Such ownership of learning and empowerment is typical at the school, according to Thomas.
Classrooms use the science-based concept of “inquiry” to lead learning, which often puts students together to solve problems using trial-and-error.
Project-based activities such as building rockets, programming robots (even kindergarten students are using computer code) and replicating the works of famous artists in small group study is central to the curriculum.
“They are learning from diverse perspectives,” Thomas said. “When students learn from each other and look at complex problems, they solve them differently when they have these different perspectives.”
Integration is a word that holds double meaning at Glacier Hills, one of five elementary school magnets in District 196.
The School of Arts and Sciences integrates its focus in the curriculum as often as possible — a strategy that Thomas says has helped the school lower its achievement gap and earned it Reward School status based on test scores the past two years.
Once a Racially Identifiable school with 20 percent more minority students than neighboring schools, the school now has a racial balance that was made possible by its conversion to a magnet school in 2007.
Thomas said about half of the school’s students live in the attendance area while the other half are in-district transfers from another attendance area. Last year, Glacier Hills had about 180 more students who applied but were unable to be accepted at the 760-student capacity school where every square inch seems to be devoted to classrooms.
While the school is integrated in its racial mix, the district’s Achievement and Integration strategy to have a culturally inclusive curriculum means multiculturalism is integrated when possible.
Walking around the school in advance of its Student Art Fair on Thursday, March 9, one can see how arts, science and multiculturalism appears in the curriculum.
Some of the works use all three facets as students exercise their creativity using math concepts such as geometry or computer technology and researching artists from around the world.
They have created masks from different cultures, made three-dimensional shape sculptures and written and illustrated books.
Thomas says he’s toured about 100 magnet schools from across the country, and he’d place Glacier Hills at the top.
He attributes the school’s magnet focus for helping it to reduce the achievement gap.
According to the Minnesota Department of Education, District 196’s first three magnet schools created in 2007 — Diamond Path, Glacier Hills and Cedar Park — have reduced achievement gaps by 17.98 to 11.42 points from 2013-16.
Proficiency ratings (the weighted percentage of subgroups reaching targets) for these schools ranged from 11.25 to 25.0.
The district is hoping for the same kinds of gains for Oak Ridge and Echo Park, which were added to the district’s magnet offerings this year.
From 2013-16, these two schools reduced achievement gaps by 11.11 and 8.21 points, and had proficiency scores of 2.28 and 1.46, respectively, according to MDE Report Card data.
The newspaper’s review of testing data for the 2016 class of fifth-graders at Glacier Hills found that reading test scores improved in all groups since 2014.
The change in the percentage of those proficient in reading from 2014 as third-graders to 2016 as fifth-graders were:
• White 74.1 to 80.3 percent,
• Black 50.1 to 71.4 percent,
• Hispanic 30.8 to 53.3 percent,
• Free and reduced price lunch 38.7 to 61.5 percent.
(Testing data was not available for other subgroups.)
Districtwide, the number of fifth-grade students testing proficient in reading in 2016 was 72.8 percent compared to 63.2 in 2014 when that class was in third-grade.
Reading tests are used by the district to set Achievement and Integration goals, which were reported in the newspaper’s Feb. 24 story in this series.
A future story will look at other testing data in the district’s middle and high schools and strategies used to reduce the achievement gap.