District celebrates academic performance milestones

Standing before the board in 2003, Superintendent Jim Johnson explained the rules and academic expectations laid out for their students by the federal governmentís No Child Left Behind program. The expectations were to increase student achievement each year until, by 2014, all students’ standardized test scores would achieve or exceed proficiency standards.
Though the rules have changed – and 100 percent proficiency has not been attained – Johnson said the district’s recent test scores have shown progress and advancement in ways they hardly thought possible in the early years of No Child Left Behind.
This year, for the first time ever, Monticello students achieved adequate proficiency progress in reading and math exams in all of their different student cells: special education, free and reduced lunch students, limited English proficiency (LEP) students, whites, blacks and Hispanics.
“Part of me just wants to bask a little bit in this,” said Linda Borgerding, director of curriculum said. “It’s quite an achievement for our staff, our administration, our kids and our families, who all supported us in this five-year journey to show something like this.”
“People need to understand that it’s harder to get no X’s today than it was four years ago,” added board member Liz Leitch-Sell. “Every year the standards are higher.”
In the past, one or more of these cells of students would not achieve adequate yearly progress (AYP) and thus “ding” the district as a whole, causing negative things to happen such as losing some of its Title 1 federal funding.
A lot has changed since the state of Minnesota applied for and received a waiver from the federal government’s No Child Left Behind program. State schools now receive a Multiple Measurement Rating (MMR) that takes into account, not only proficiency, but also measures student growth and level of achievement gap closure to reach a total combined score. These three measurements each have a maximum score of 25 for a total possible score of 75, which the district shows as a percentage.
This year the high school fared the worst of Monticello’s schools, with a MMR score of 58.97 percent. Of the three measurements, proficiency was the biggest negative factor for the school.
Fewer than 50 percent of white students did not receive a proficient score in math. Borgerding said they found the problem lies with the middle track of math students, neither the high-flyers nor the lower-level math students. Specific areas where students lose comprehension have been identified and teacher training is ramping up to help students understand Algebra II principles in different ways, Borgerding said.
The news only gets better for the younger students. The middle school scored 86.86 percent for their MMR score, with high proficiency and growth. Achievement gap reduction was their lowest score of the three measurements, receiving 18 of 25 possible points. Borgerding noted middle school’s special education scores as a particular highlight. In 2008, 75 to 80 percent of special education students were not receiving proficient scores on their reading and math exams. For 2012, proficiency percentages have soared to 41 percent in math and 58 percent in reading, this from a group of students whose cognitive delays must be significant to qualify for special education services.
Little Mountain scored 80.04 percent for their MMR, mirroring the middle school with very high proficiency and a lower achievement gap reduction that kept their score lower than Pinewood, which received a score of 96.47 percent and had near-perfect scores for proficiency, growth and achievement gap reduction. In fact, board members were especially impressed by Pinewood’s ability to nearly erase the achievement gap between white and Hispanic students in reading, a group that scored 30 percentage points lower than white students as recently as two years ago.
Because of these high scores, Pinewood had been designated a Reward School, which are schools that perform in the top 15 percent of Title 1 schools based on their MMR. Little Mountain has been designated a Celebration-eligible school for being in the 60-85th percentile of top performing schools based on these scores. The middle school and high school do not receive Title 1 funding and thus are not eligible to be recognized in this way, though Borgerding suspects the middle school would have been recognized as well if it were a Title 1 school.
“Change can be difficult, but over the last three years, the administration, right down to the staff, was willing to change,” said board chair Scott Hill. “Mr. Johnson led that change, but the staff responded and was willing to make the changes. That’s a lot of hard work. That hard work got us where we are, and it’s an upward trend that is going to continue.”