Archive for the ‘Performance’ Category

Mixed News on the Achievement Gap

April 23, 2012

Well, the achievement gap is in the news again from a presentation on April 16 on high school students. Here is the link if you want to read it all;

High School 2012 Winter Map

The data sums up this way;

GRAD Pass Rate Predictions

› Writing Hold steady or decrease slightly
› Reading May improve slightly compared to 2011
› Math May improve slightly compared to 2011
› GAP May improve slightly for all 3 subjects

Growth Rate Fall 2011 to Winter 2012

Reading and Math is Similar to national average
› For low scoring students Above national average

Reading growth

Improved overall and for 3 of 5 subgroups

Math growth:

Improved overall and for 5 of 5 subgroups

So the news doesn’t sound great but it isn’t terrible either.

Only Two Schools Pass Again

October 19, 2011

From the Sun Post;

Two Robbinsdale Area Schools make AYP. For the third consecutive year, two of the 14 schools in Robbinsdale District 281 met Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP standards in 2011 under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

As in 2009 and 2010, they are Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School in New Hope and Zachary Lane Elementary in Plymouth. The Minnesota Department of Education released its Adequate Yearly Progress report of statewide schools’ test results on Sept. 30. The AYP data is based on students’ performance on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments-II tests administered last spring. Students in grades three through eight took both reading and math tests. Tenth-graders took a reading test, and 11th-grade students took a math test.

The District 281 test scores “nearly mirrored the state results in math and reading,” according to a news release from the school district. Zachary Lane Elementary in Plymouth and the Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School in New Hope continue to perform above AYP targets for all groups, according to the release.

Individual elementary schools that showed “great progress” in making their AYP targets included Forest and Neill elementaries in Crystal and Northport Elementary in Brooklyn Center, which collectively improved in 16 groups in math and reading, the release said. However, Lakeview Elementary in Robbinsdale and Northport Elementary in Brooklyn Center have not made adequate yearly progress for five years, and Meadow Lake Elementary School in New Hope has not made adequate yearly progress in one subject or the other for four of the last five years. Forest Elementary School in Crystal has not made adequate yearly progress for three years.

As a result, Lakeview and Northport are mandated by the state to prepare for restructuring, Meadow Lake must take corrective action, and Forest must offer supplemental services. Each of the four schools receives federal funding based on the number of students enrolled who are living in poverty.

Schools that receive federal Title I dollars and do not make AYP two or more years in a row in the same subject are identified as being in need of improvement. Depending on the number of years they do not make AYP, schools in need of improvement must offer a range of options to students, including school choice with transportation, supplemental services and restructuring.

In a letter being mailed home to families, Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota Commissioner of Education, said, “What matters more is how students are growing and learning …. it [AYP and NCLB] compares the performance of one group of students to the performance of a totally different group of students the following year. This is not a fair, valid or accurate way of measuring how students are really doing.” The state of Minnesota on Aug. 16 applied for a waiver from the NCLB law, but the U.S. Department of Education has taken no action on the request.

Robbinsdale Area Schools uses data from the Measures of Academic Progress to help teachers analyze the growth of their students in both reading and math throughout a school year, the release said. This has helped both teachers and the district make instructional and programmatic decisions based on the strengths and needs of students, according to the release. Such decisions have led to changes at the elementary level such as dedicated intervention and enrichment time for students, and flexible-grouping strategies, the release said.

At the middle school level, analysis of data has led to a “double-dosing” in reading and/or math for students who need more targeted interventions, helping them to achieve at grade level, the release said. Overall in district schools, a concentrated focus on high expectations, building relationships and equity is beginning to reap results, the release said.

Supt. Aldo Sicoli said more work is needed.

“Our focus is on what is best for kids, every day, all day, not just once a year or for one grade level,” Sicoli said. “We fully embrace the philosophy that we are all partners in providing nothing less than an excellent education for our students.” District AYP results, along with the letter from Commissioner Cassellius, will be sent to families and are accessible at  AYP is a measure of each school’s year-to-year student achievement on statewide math and reading tests.

It is determined for the entire school, as well as eight subgroups including: white, black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian, English language learners, students with disabilities and those who are economically disadvantaged as determined by participation in free and reduced price lunch. To make AYP, all students in every subgroup must be proficient in math and reading or show clear progress toward being proficient. No Child Left Behind requires 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by the 2013-14 school year.  

Test Scores are Out

September 26, 2011

Here is a link to the breakdown of test results in math and reading;

Overall the numbers break down like this;

Math test state average; 57% Robbinsdale; 44%

Reading test state average; 75% Robbinsdale; 65%

We are aware that there is a new and tougher math test this year so that may account for the lower scores statewide and in Robbinsdale.

Here is the like to all test scores including charter schools;

A Misleading Headline?

August 25, 2011

The Sun Post had an interesting headline in the August 25 edition;

ACT scores increase in Robbinsdale Dist. 281

However, the article doesn’t mention higher scores;

The percentage of high school students in Robbinsdale District 281 taking what the ACT labels as “core classes” increased from 83 percent in 2010 to 88 percent in 2011. In addition, the schools have increased participation in college preparation programs such as Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID) and Admission Possible. Both programs support students who are determined to get to college. The ACT is a series of tests designed to specifically measure a student’s proficiency in skills needed for academic success in the first year of college. ACT has established benchmark scores, which is a minimum score needed on an ACT subject-area test to indicate a 50 percent chance of obtaining a B or higher in college courses.

So did the percentage of students taking the ACT increase or did our scores increase?  We think there is a difference.  Now on a good note;

Both the 2011 District 281 and state composite scores remained the same as 2010, well above the national composite score of 21.1. Robbinsdale Area Schools’ composite score was 22.6.

So the headline of the article is that our ACT scores increases but here they say scores remained the same as 2010!  We’re also not sure a score of 21 out of a possible 36 is a great average but at least Robbinsdale is above that.

“Both high schools are working hard to increase participation in rigorous coursework because we know that rigorous coursework in high school leads to further success down the road,” Supt. Aldo Sicoli said. “We are excited to see that more students are participating in rigorous coursework, our ACT scores remain high, and our students are leaving our high schools with tools they need to excel in life.” The ACT is the primary college entrance exam taken by Minnesota students. In addition to being a predictor of academic success in the first year of college. The achievement test covers English, mathematics, reading and science reasoning. It also has a writing test, which is optional.

Misleading headline anyone?

Robbinsdale Science Scores Drop

August 16, 2011

From the Golden Valley Patch;

Almost two-thirds of the Robbinsdale Public Schools students tested in science in March failed to meet state standards, according to data the Minnesota Department of Education released Friday. While state scores mainly remained flat from last year, most Robbinsdale schools saw a decrease in the number of proficient students over last year. The percentage of fifth-graders who were not proficient increased by more than 6 points over last year, from 62.1 percent to 68.5.

Only two elementary schools beat the state average of 54 percent not proficient: the Spanish Immersion School with 46.5 percent and Zachary with 45.9 percent. The Spanish Immersion also improved over last year’s percentage, from 47.3 not proficient. Meadow Lake Elementary improved its proficiency percentage by more than 3 percent over last year, to 75.3 percent. That was the biggest improvement any Robbinsdale school made over last year.

It “may not be statistically significant, but is definitely significant in the minds of students and staff,” said Tia Clasen, district spokeswoman, about Meadow Lake. She released a statement from the district Friday.

“Our school truly intensified its focus on the whole child,” said Meadow Lake Principal Kim Hiel. “For instance, each child in the entire school keeps a science journal, engages in inquiry throughout the day in all different subject areas, and practices thoughtful, reflective thinking. For our kids, it’s not just about ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ We focus on process.”

The elementary school with the fewest number of proficient students was Northport in Brooklyn Center, with 9.2 percent.  The percentage of students who were not proficient in science in Golden Valley’s Noble Elementary was 76.1 percent, a significant drop from last year’s 65.4 percent.

Both of Robbinsdale’s middle schools did worse than the state average of 55.6 percent, but one improved over last year. About 62.8 percent of Plymouth Middle School students were not proficient this year, which is an 8 percent improvement over last year’s 70.8 percent.

The percentage of Robbinsdale Middle School students who did not pass the science test increased from 61.9 percent last year to 70.5 this year. Armstrong beat the state average of 46.2 percent, with 44.8 percent not proficient this year. Cooper’s scores, however, were significantly worse than the state average, at 63.9 percent not proficient.

Cooper improved, however, by about 3 percentage points over last year, while Armstrong dropped by more than a percentage point. “We are carefully examining our students’ growth as they move through our schools,” said Superintendent Aldo Sicoli in the news release. “We will not accept this drop overall in our schools. It is unacceptable and disheartening, but it will not derail the recent work we have accomplished and will continue to implement this coming year.”

Sicoli said the district has a lot of work to do. “Are we there yet? No, we are not,” he said. “However, we have, and will continue to have, the steadfast persistence in working with students so they will attain high intellectual performance. Our students have many strengths and talents. It is up to us to tap into those talents in order to foster learning and achieve academic success.”

Yet Another Great Letter to the Editor

July 22, 2011

From the Sun Post;

Ask more questions

Someone was wrong and blew it big time.

I could believe the June 30 issue of the Sun Post which quotes District 281’s School Board when they credited Superintendent Aldo Sicoli with “outstanding performance,” or I could believe the July 7 issue of the Sun Post where we’re told the “Four in five Dist. 281 9th-graders pass Minnesota writing test,” as compared to 85 percent or above during the past four years.”

I believe both. What I cannot believe are the circumstances that led to these stories. When the school board conferred its glowing review, they did it on the basis of “strategic plan and results, employee relations, community and external relations, operational management, financial management and board relations.”

None of these items, except maybe strategic plan and results, appear to be related to academic performance and intellectual development. And this is the pitfall of trusting the system to educate children: you have insular, bloated, bureaucratic spendthrifts who heap accolades on one of their cronies for reasons only casually related to the educational mission. Meanwhile, we get 20 percent of our kids who cannot write and probably cannot read either.

Thanks to the Sun Post for running these stories. The paper should follow up by asking the school board some very uncomfortable questions. As for the school board, they all should be fired immediately for managerial malfeasance. Parents should stop sending their children to these schools and citizens should stop paying their property taxes that prop up these miserable failures.

Matt Rothchild


Ups and Downs for 281

July 4, 2011

Recently some good and bad news has come out on District 281 performance;

First the bad, from the Golden Valley Patch;

Robbinsdale District Test Scores Dip

Only 81 percent of Robbinsdale students passed this year’s GRAD state writing exam

By Amy Mattson

The percentage of Robbinsdale students who passed a state-mandated writing test has dropped by 4 percent, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.

District results for the Graduation-Required Assessments for Diploma test released Wednesday show 81 percent of students passed, which is down from 85 percent last year.  The state average dropped 1 percent over the past year, from 90 to 89.  “While we are disappointed with results this year, they highlight the need to intensify efforts to improve writing skills at every grade level,” said Robbinsdale Area Schools Superintendent Aldo Sicoli in a news release.

The district plans to increase writing requirements in all subject areas, the superintendent said. Staff members hope this will help students understand the relevance of strong writing skills.  We take the GRAD test seriously,” said Robbinsdale Area Schools Communications Director Tia Clasen. “Having an assessment of proficiency in writing is a good thing, and our district is continuing its work of creating powerful and effective writers.”

When compared across ethnic groups, Robbinsdale’s GRAD scores were equal to or higher than those reported statewide, according to the district.  The GRAD written composition test is given to ninth-graders and scored based on style, sentence formation, grammar, mechanics and spelling, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. Students must pass the exam prior to receiving a diploma.

Those who did not pass will have an opportunity to take the test again later this year.

Yikes, that’s not good.  On the other hand, MAP test scores improved in the elementary schools;


Every single elementary school in District 281 had above average growth from fall 2010 to spring 2011 in both math and reading on the spring Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), an assessment designed to monitor student learning.  Individual grade levels across the district enjoyed an average increase of over 6% in reading and 7% in math. The news was just as good for students at all levels of proficiency.  The percentage of students at every level of proficiency across all nine elementary schools in the Robbinsdale Area Schools making at least average growth increased over 7% in reading and 6% in math.

“We are committed to eliminate the academic disparities that exist among different groups of students,” explained Aldo Sicoli, Superintendent of Robbinsdale Area Schools, “but we are just as committed to make sure that all students grow in their learning at all levels. We are raising the bar for all students.”  In fact, those students district-wide whose fall MAP scores were above the 75th percentile had the largest increase in growth at or above target level in both reading and math, with an increase of 9% and 7%, respectively.

Elementary schools across the district have implemented new ways of doing things, from new curriculum to strategies for acceleration, and have focused intervention and enrichment time for students.  Differentiated instruction, along with purposeful assessment for small group instruction, is paying off, as is the infusion of strategies throughout the day to build a strong sense of community schoolwide.

The students are growing.  Average growth for a student translates into a year’s academic growth in a year’s time.  If a student has achieved above-average growth in a particular subject area, the student is making more than a year’s growth in one year’s time.  In Robbinsdale, those efforts are turning the entire district’s elementary students into a successful community of learners.

Well, that’s the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Board Gives Sicoli High Marks

July 1, 2011

Yet another one from the sun post;

Robbinsdale Area Schools Supt. credited with ‘outstanding performance’ in 2010-11

At the end of his second year at the helm, Robbinsdale District 281 Supt. Aldo Sicoli’s performance has been outstanding, according to the School Board.  Board Chair Barb Van Heel summarized the board’s June 7 closed-door evaluation of Sicoli at the regular meeting on June 20.

“During our discussion, board members repeatedly expressed how pleased we are with the outstanding performance of Supt. Sicoli and the great things that are happening in our district for all our students due to his collaborative leadership style and excellent communication skills,” Van Heel said.  The board considered Sicoli’s performance in six areas: strategic plan and results, employee relations, community and external relations, operational management, financial management and board relations.  Ratings could be unsatisfactory, basic, proficient, distinguished, or not applicable.

Board members rated Sicoli in each area and also listed commendations and opportunities for action for each category, Van Heel said.  “The board’s evaluation indicated that Dr. Sicoli has consistently demonstrated expertise and skill in all evaluation areas and has exceeded expectations,” Van Heel said.

Strategic Plan and results

Improvement in schools is occurring, Van Heel said, noting that student achievement is up, the climate is improved, and a variety of new systems are in place. The district also has set “stretch” goals for closing the achievement gap, she said.  The board would like to see continued marketing of the school district and focus on targeted staff development, as well as efforts to keep the strategic plan front and center, improvement of academic achievement (especially at the secondary level) and continued efforts to improve school climate and a safe learning environment.

Employee relations

Sicoli was commended for excellent communication skills and “positive, productive relationships,” as well as excelling at empowering the staff.  “The school district has an improved collaborative environment,” Van Heel said. “Supt. Sicoli shows genuine appreciation and great recognition of staff accomplishments, large and small.”  The board would like to see more staff members spotlighted at board meetings, and continuing work on performance evaluations at all levels, as well as professional development where needed, Van Heel said.

Community and external relations

Sicoli’s highly rated communication skills mean that he is visible throughout the district, honest and open, communicates the district’s vision, and promotes the district well, Van Heel said.  The board would like Sicoli to get data on stakeholder satisfaction and “continue to improve customer service at all levels.”

Organizational management

“Supt. Sicoli does not shy away from addressing issues directly,” Van Heel said, adding that “the decision-making process is more inclusive, leading to improved results and buy-in.”  “The work is getting done in spite of cuts,” she said.  The board would like Sicoli to “evaluate the overall effectiveness of all programs and continue to identify and develop leaders among the staff,” Van Heel said.

Financial management

Sicoli was commended for the six successful budget committees he created, for his proactive approach in providing options and making cuts that have “minimal effect to classrooms.”  “The fund balance has increased and he is watchful on expenses,” Van Heel said.  The board is asking that Sicoli “have the budget tell the story to our community.”

Board relations

Regarding board relations, Sicoli was commended for being respectful, genuine, “fun to work with,” and for having integrity, innovation, listening well and maintaining a good sense of humor.

In conclusion, Van Heel quoted a comment from one board member’s evaluation:  “Supt. Sicoli has again distinguished himself as a highly effective Supt. for Robbinsdale Areas Schools. Progress toward many district goals and objectives has surpassed expectations. He is continuing to provide the excellent leadership skills necessary to implement our strategic plan with clarity and focus. He works with staff in a collaborative style and promotes continuous improvement in all areas of the organization through teamwork and a positive attitude. He effectively partners with the board to look for ways to reach out to all members of our community. Our ability to deliver quality educational programs while staying within our financial means is impressive. He celebrates staff and student achievement while recognizing and addressing the need to improve.”

Prior to being hired in April 2009 to replace retiring Supt. Stan Mack, Sicoli was assistant Supt. in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District 191.  Sicoli’s three-year contract in District 281, extending July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2012, specifies a salary of $174,000 in 2009-10; $177,480 for 2010-11; and $181,030 for 2011-12.

Though we’re not sure we’d give him “outstanding marks on everything” Sicoli has been a nice and refreshing change from Stan Mack.

Forest Elementary Making Progress?

May 28, 2011

This is from the Star Tribune;

Crystal school launches small-group reading

by Norman Draper

At Crystal’s Forest Elementary School, reading has become a small-group exercise.

For the first time this year, teaching specialists are joining forces with regular classroom teachers in the K-5 school to break up each class into small reading groups. The idea is that, by working in groups of about six students each and separating the groups by learning ability, kids make better progress reading.

Test scores and the reports from teachers appear to bear that out. Results from school tests show improved scores and more students making above-average reading progress from last year to this year.  Especially significant is the reading progress among black students, who comprise a quarter of the district’s 671 students.  “Our goal is to close the achievement gap [between white and non-white students], and we have seen really good growth,” said Forest Principal Connie Grumdahl.

For instance, school test scores showed that 71 percent of the school’s black fifth-graders made above-average progress in reading this year, compared to 56 percent of the white fifth-graders.  In the past, Grumdahl said, school specialists have pulled some kids — such as those who are still learning English and fit into the special education category — out of their classrooms for special reading instruction. The difference this year is that the specialists are coming into the classroom to spend a half-hour with those kids. The regular teacher also has small groups of students for more individualized reading instruction.

Grumdahl said she wanted to try something different in reading instruction this year to address the reading challenges presented by the changing population of the school.  “We’re experiencing more mobility, more poverty and a different readiness level for children as they enter any grade, especially kindergarten,” she said.  One thing that helped this year, she said, was a new set of reading books written in versions for kids of different reading abilities and cultural backgrounds. Then, figured Grumdahl, it might be better to have the teaching specialists go into the classrooms, rather than having them pull kids out to go to other classes.

Those specialists now work “side-by-side in small groups” with the regular classroom teachers. That, she said, has resulted in more collaboration between the teaching specialists and regular classroom teachers, and making it easier to track individual students’ progress in reading.  “Everybody is on the same page, and we’re all moving in the same way in terms of instruction,” Grumdahl said. “There’s more conversation going on about each child. There’s a sharing that happens [that] I don’t think can always happen.”

Fifth-grade teacher Gretchen Reinholz said in her homeroom of 27 kids she has six different reading groups. Those groups are divided into kids who are English language learners, special education (two different levels), below-their-grade reading level, at-their-grade reading level, and above-their-grade reading level.  At first, the small reading group initiative was a learning experience for the teachers, too.  “Initially, it was like driving a new car and trying to learn the features that make that car exciting,” Reinholz said. One challenge is that not every small group is working with a teacher at the same time. So Reinholz has to make sure the students not being tutored are able to find ways to keep busy.

She said the new reading textbook series helps because it presents “real experiences,  There are more different cultural groups represented in the curriculum than what you might sometimes see.” The result of all this, Reinholz said, is not only the rising test scores, but more engaged students.  “They’re starting to use vocabulary more readily and there’s more participation,” she said. “I’m getting more kids to do read-alouds as part of the whole group. This year, I’ve seen kids taking more chances. It feels a little more safe to share your ideas.”

Grumdahl said she doesn’t know whether other elementary schools in her district and elsewhere are taking a similar approach, though she has talked to other principals about it.  “I’m sure there are schools doing different versions of this or parts of it,” she said.  She said she would like to expand the practice at some point to math instruction at the school.

Funny…we remember small reading groups in elementary schools and we didn’t have any “teaching specialists” or  “textbooks with different cultural groups.”  Then again, if this is closing the achievement gap and producing real results then it is fine by us.

Spending More of Our Money!

May 28, 2011

This is just sick; from

$500 Million Obama Administration Program Will Help Kids ‘Sit Still’ in Kindergarten

Wednesday, May 25, 2011
By James Zilenziger

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told on Wednesday that the administration’s new $500 million early learning initiative is designed to deal with children from birth onward to prevent such problems as 5-year olds who “can’t sit still” in a kindergarten classroom.  “You really need to look at the range of issues, because if a 5-year-old can’t sit still, it is unlikely that they can do well in a kindergarten class, and it has to be the whole range of issues that go into healthy child development,” Sebelius said during a telephone news conference on Wednesday to announce the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge.

Sebelius and Education Secretary Arne Duncan jointly announced the $500-million program, which will provide competitive grants to states to address issues affecting educational outcomes for children from birth to age 5.  On the conference call, asked: “What were the current problems that were found with the health, social and emotional development for children ages birth to 5?”  Sebelius, adding on to comments from Asst. Education Secretary Joan Lombardi, pointed to studies done in her home state of Kansas, where she served as governor. “When we looked at 5-year olds–and we tested about half the 5-year-olds in a relatively homogeneous state like Kansas — and found that about half of them were not ready for kindergarten at age 5,” Sebelius said.

“And some of those skills were missing: readiness for their math or reading,” she said. “A number of children were missing the social and developmental skills which would allow them to sit in a classroom or play with others or listen to a teacher for any period of time. So I think it was an indicator that you couldn’t just test curriculum readiness.”  According to the U.S. Department of Education, awards in Race to the Top will go to “states that are leading the way with ambitious yet achievable plans for implementing coherent, compelling, and comprehensive early learning education reform.”

Oh my God, $500 million to help kids sit still!!!!  With what, more drugs?  Wow, isn’t this hope and change great?  This is just another reason to END FEDERAL FUNDING!