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Elementary tests well, but older students' results decline

The Park Rapids School Board heard the rest of the story on recently released math and reading test scores Monday night. Overall, Park Rapids students were more proficient in reading and less proficient in math than public school students statewide.

The Park Rapids School Board heard the rest of the story on recently released math and reading test scores Monday night.

Overall, Park Rapids students were more proficient in reading and less proficient in math than public school students statewide.

Jeff Johnson, assistant middle school principal, handed out data on the MCA-II results from last spring's assessments in reading in Grades 3-8 and 10 and in math in Grades 3-8 and 11.

The handout compared the latest results with those of prior years and also demographic information, such as scores of students receiving special education services.

"What we see is the elementary doing well and they fall off at the middle school and further at the high school," commented middle school principal Bruce Gravalin. "It is the same across the state that elementary is testing higher."

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Johnson said that means finding out where the gap is in the math curriculum.

According to Gravalin, restructuring is already underway so middle school instructors will specialize in math and science.

Area High School principal Al Judson said part of the equation is not apparent, however. "They (the state Department of Education) are raising the rigor of the test every year, so it's not a fair comparison this year to last. They've changed the rules; they've changed what the test looks like."

At the same time, Judson said, the math portion concerns him. Generally, he said he agrees with a Faribault school official who was quoted as saying, "They are constantly raising the bar at the same time they're lowering the resources to do something about it."

With such low math scores for high school students and steeper requirements every year, "what happens if 50 percent of students can't graduate" because they can't pass the test?" Judson asked. In 2010, that is the intent.

"Other states set the bar low knowing they will have to raise it," Judson continued. "Minnesota set the bar high so it's hard every year to make an improvement."

Board member Frank Schaap asked how the information on test scores is communicated to parents.

Mitch Peterson, elementary principal, said an individual letter goes out to parents of third and fourth grade students.

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Schaap said he fears the public and parents don't understand that if students want to have a future, education is important.

But Judson said the new math requirements exceed what most jobs require. "Not everybody needs to do Algebra II," he said. "Some students are better at writing."

Gravalin added students' brains develop at different times so while one eighth grader may be successful in algebra, another may not have that ability until they're sophomores or juniors in high school.

"I don't think our schools are failing. Students are being successful," said board member Gary Gauldin, a retired teacher and former high school principal. "We're playing a football game with a soccer rule book. Our schools are successful; the rules are changing."

In other action Monday night, the school board:

n Heard a report from Gravalin on summer school at Century Middle School. About 75 students are involved in three programs.

n Learned an average of 80 and as many as 100 students have participated in the free lunch program at Century School and about 50 students are eating breakfast there.

This is the first summer the federal program has been offered in the district.

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n Offered support to Jill Stevenson, fourth grade teacher, and Terry Zoller, middle school teacher. They are working on master's degrees in education leadership and are researching mentoring programs so they said they would like to facilitate a mentoring program in the district.

n Approved rental rates for 2008-09. They will increase 5 percent across the board, Hutchinson said.

n Approved a plan to enter into a lease contract for replacement of buses. "Our fleet is old from years of cutting back. This process would allow the district to turn the fleet over quicker," superintendent Glenn Chiodo said.

The district budgeted to replace one bus in 2008. The lease option will allow the district to get five buses for what it would spend on one, added Cindy Leach, transportation supervisor.

n Approved a resignation from Lisa Robbins, a special education paraprofessional with the district for three years.

n Approved the following extracurricular replacement hires: Jamie Stahnke, 8th grade volleyball coach; Jackie Griffin, 9th grade volleyball coach; Aaron Morris, assistant varsity football coach; J.T. Luther and Josh Cook, 9th grade football coaches; and Jeremy Anderson, middle school football coach.

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