Teacher Eric Hillesland gave the Park Rapids School Board a progress report Wednesday about Century Middle School’s Alternative Learning Center, which provides math and reading interventions for fifth and sixth graders who do not meet criteria for Special Education.

“Most of my students are at the ‘high-risk’ or ‘at some-risk’ level,” he said, noting that their goal was to push their test scores toward a “college-bound” threshold.

Of his 15 sixth-grade math students, 10 showed improvement in FastBridge assessments between fall and winter. Of 10 fifth graders, four showed significant improvement. In adaptive reading scores (a broad measure of reading ability), seven of nine sixth-graders and five of seven fifth-graders improved their scores. In AUTOreading testlets (covering several specific reading skills), six of nine sixth-graders and four of seven fifth-graders improved.

Hillesland said he will monitor the progress of the students whose scores went down. In some cases, he said, they finished the tests quickly – as in, 11 minutes for a test expected to take 30 minutes – suggesting an uncooperative attitude. In one case, he let a student retake a test after they admitted they clicked answers without reading them.

“With the smaller class sizes, I feel like I’m making more connections with these students,” he said. “I talk to them about what’s happening within their lives.

“Even though some of those scores went down, I’m getting more work out of them. When they came to my room, they’d maybe do one or two problems, and then they’d get frustrated, or they would quit trying, or they’d stop. Now I’m getting full assignments completed from them. So, I’m really noticing their attitude has changed.”

Hillesland concluded, “I’m really enjoying making those connections with those students that are at those high risks, creating relationships … and their attitude towards the work is getting better. They don’t have that negative attitude towards school when they’re in my classroom.

“I feel like we’re taking their defeated attitudes toward school and giving them success in my classroom. One of them: ‘I’ve never gotten a nine out of 10 on a quiz before.’ Just different things like that. I feel the program is helping them so much.”