by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) made progress but did not meet most of the goals outlined in its annual state accountability plan for 2020-2021. The pandemic impacted students’ learning experience last year, and WAPS has not met its goals for several years. The district did meet its goal regarding children being ready for school.
Minnesota requires all districts to have a World’s Best Workforce (WBWF) plan outlining what schools aim to teach students. The plan covers five areas: all children being ready for school, all third graders reading at grade level, closing the achievement gap among all students, all students being prepared for career and college and all students graduating from high school. Learning and Teaching Director Karla Winter will present the plan to the public and the School Board this Thursday.
WAPS met one goal, made progress with two and is awaiting data to determine whether it met another.
The one goal WAPS did meet centers on all children being ready for school. WAPS’ goal was for the percentage of kindergarten students meeting literacy benchmarks to increase from 45 percent in fall 2020 to 50 percent in 2021. In fall 2021, WAPS slightly exceeded their goal, with 53.3 percent of students meeting literacy benchmarks. “I think when you look at where we were and the experiences our students had last year, and the work we had to do, this is awesome,” Superintendent Annette Freiheit said.
Winter said she was excited about meeting the goal and credited staff for their work. “I think we need to celebrate those goals we achieved,” she said.
A goal the district did not meet but made progress on is teaching all third graders to read at grade level. The district’s goal was to increase the percentage of third graders reading at grade level by 9 percent from 52 percent in fall 2020 to 61 percent in spring 2021. Ultimately, WAPS increased by 6.6 percent, from 49.6 percent in fall 2020 to 56.2 percent in spring 2021. Winter said the discrepancy in the percentage meeting benchmarks in fall 2020 was due to additional students being tested at a different time.
“We had some growth,” Freiheit said. “That’s always our goal, to have that growth.” She said she was proud of teachers’ work in this area, in light of last year’s shifts between distance, hybrid and in-person learning. “I think they worked and were able to make some good progress,” she said.
With the district’s goal tied to closing the achievement gaps between students of different races and classes, WAPS is awaiting data and does not know if it met its goal. The district shifted last year to a non-academic, multi-year goal of increasing the percentage of students of color and students who qualify for free or reduced meals taking honors or college-level classes at the high school. Previously, the goals in this area had been based on state standardized test scores and graduation rates. To date, data for 2021-2022 is not available, so it is not known if the percentages increased between last year and this year. Winter said the district has some preliminary data but wants to wait until receiving final data from the state to give a report on this goal. The district expects to receive the data from the state next spring, she said.
Freiheit said the district needs to keep working on reducing the achievement gap. “We’re tackling those things,” she said.
Additionally, WAPS made some progress with, but did not meet its goal of increasing the percentage of students completing an inventory about college and career readiness from 85 percent in 2020 to 100 percent in 2021. The district increased to 92 percent in 2021, rather.
WAPS also did not meet its goal of increasing the percentage of students who graduate from Winona Senior High School (WSHS) and the Winona Area Learning Center (ALC) by 5 percent each and district wide by about 10 percent, from 74.9 percent in 2019 to 85 percent in 2020-2021. From 2019 to 2020, the graduation rate at WSHS decreased by about one percent, decreased very slightly at the ALC and increased district wide due to the total number of students graduating each year changing.
“We need to continue working on that,” Freiheit said.
When considering the results in their entirety, Winter said she wanted to celebrate the progress made toward reaching the goals, especially with students learning in-person, virtually and a mix of the two last year. “That had an impact,” she said. She also wants to focus on the work being done to reach new goals, she said. “I’m feeling very confident about the work we’re doing … I think everyone is putting in a lot of time to make that happen for our students,” she said.
A proposed, new version of the plan also outlines goals for next year.
The district plans to set a goal of increasing the percentage of third graders reading at grade level from 51.2 percent in fall 2021 by 6.8 percent to 58 percent in spring 2022. This goal is a decrease from the 2020-2021 goal of 61 percent.
WAPS aims to increase the WSHS graduation rate by 4.4 percent, a decrease from this year’s goal of 5 percent; to raise the ALC’s rate by 5.1 percent, a very slight increase from this year’s goal of 5 percent; and increase the districtwide rate by 3.3 percent, a decrease from the previous target of 5 percent.
WAPS is maintaining its multi-year goal of increasing the percentage of students of color and students who qualify for free or reduced meals taking honors or college-level classes at the high school. The district is awaiting data to determine whether it reduced the gap between white students and students of color from 26.8 percent to 22.3 percent. The district’s goal is for that parentage to then decrease to 17.8 percent in 2022-2023 and 13.4 percent in 2023-2024. With regard to students qualifying for free or reduced meals, the district is waiting on data to analyze whether it met its goal of reducing the gap between students who don’t qualify and those who do from 31 percent to 25.7 percent. WAPS’ goal is for that percentage to decrease to 20.6 percent in 2022-2023 and 15.5 percent in 2023-2024.
Another district goal is to increase the percentage of students completing college and career-readiness work from 92 percent in 2021 to 100 percent in 2022.
Lastly, WAPS’ goal is to increase the percentage of kindergarten students meeting literacy benchmarks by 9.8 percent to 63.1 percent between this fall and fall 2022. This goal is an increase from the 2020-2021 goal of 50 percent.
The WBWF public hearing will take place at 5 p.m. on Thursday, November 18, at Winona Senior High School. Community members may make public comments in-person after the presentation.