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High school, middle school take steps to improve student achievement scores (11/07/2012)
By Sarah Squires
The Winona Area Public Schools Board of Education learned more about how middle and high school staff are working to improve student achievement, using test scores and other data to identify where kids are struggling and direct them to remediation and other help during the school day.

Middle School Principal Mark Anderson said district math and reading specialists are being utilized to assist with small group instruction for students who are having trouble in certain areas. He said the math specialist is helping with instruction during class, when students having trouble in a with certain course material are able to meet with him in small groups for remediation. About 100 kids are part of a reading enhancement program in fifth to eighth grades. The program includes small groups of students who undergo fluency tests either biweekly or monthly, and teachers are working on sharing that data with parents so they are able to see student progress.

This week, a “lunch study” program was initiated at the middle school. Anderson told the board that midterm grades indicated multiple students had more than one “F.” A letter was sent home with those students asking parents for permission to have their child enrolled in the lunch study program. During lunch, the kids meet in the back of the media center where they eat lunch and have time to do homework. Teachers are informed which students will participate in lunch study so that homework assignments that haven’t been turned in are available for students to work on during the period.

Anderson said that he is also working closely with Winona State University education students to enhance the college students’ practicum time at the middle school. Usually, college students just sit in the back of the classroom and take notes as part of their practicum work. Anderson said it could be much more meaningful for college students to actually work more closely with students during their time in the classroom. Some of the practicum college students will act as tutors in the morning, and Anderson hoped that they would act as mentors—for up to 15 weeks—to the students they assist. He said he hoped the same kind of help could be offered during lunch, too. “It’s a win for us, it’s a win for our students, and it’s a win for Winona State University students,” said Anderson.

At the high school level, principal Kelly Halvorsen said the student achievement team was split into two groups: one to focus on the school schedule and any changes to it that might be beneficial, and one to focus on academic data and how to apply it to remediation efforts.

Guided study hall was implemented during the last school year for one day per week; this year it has been expanded to two days per week. The school has three sections of guided study hall, which allows students to be assigned to a study hall class and teacher that best fit their needs. Low math performers are assigned to a study hall with a math teacher in a small class, and low performers in reading are put into a class with a reading specialist. Every homeroom teacher has access to student coursework and grades. That way, if students say they have nothing to do, the homeroom teacher can remind them of any missing assignments or areas to work on during the guided study hall period.

With the added day of guided study hall, Halvorsen said she anticipates that failure rates will drop. She noted grade data seems to come more slowly with the trimester schedule, but last year, ninth grade failure rates dropped when guided study was added one day per week, so she anticipated the added day would further improve classroom and test work. Over all, she said, the response to guided study hall has been very positive. “The kids who really need it truly use it,” she said.

Halvorsen reported that teachers are using an “Infinite Campus” program that helps organize test score and grade data. The program allows teachers to send automatic e-mail messages to parents when a student is performing poorly in a course. Without the Infinite Campus program, comparing and organizing data can take a long time, she said, but with the program, teachers and staff members are able to look at the “big data picture,” and compare trimesters, years, and organize data in useful ways.

Halvorsen also shared Northwest Evaluation Assessment (NWEA) test score data that showed ninth graders were above the “national norm” in math but not reading, and that 10th graders scored higher in reading and math than the national norm. She said that high school staff members were very excited to have this additional testing data. The test is considered a good predictor for how students will do on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA) test, she added. The NWEA test can help determine which students are just guessing at answers, such as when the student answers all the multiple choice questions with the same letter (for example, filling in the “C” box on all questions). The test is taken online, and if the students answers “deviate” from expected patterns, said Halvorsen, the test is thrown out.

Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), or teacher groups that meet to examine student achievement data, have been working on ensuring that the high school curriculum is matched with the skills that students are expected to master for the MCA tests. This work is often referred to as “aligning curriculum with the tests,” and Halvorsen said that PLCs have been working on creating spreadsheets that will assist in that alignment. The spreadsheets will include each course, as well as each test standard, and PLCs will go over curriculum to ensure that courses match those test standards. At some point, PLC teams will be able to determine which courses completely align with state test standards, and Halvorsen said she would bring that data to the board once it is complete.



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