From classroom trends to school board decisions, Class Act will keep you updated on all the school issues followed by the Star Tribune’s education reporters. Contributors include Alejandra Matos, who covers Minneapolis; Kim McGuire, who covers the west metro; Erin Adler, who covers the south metro; Anthony Lonetree and Libor Jany, who cover St. Paul and the east metro, and Shannon Prather, who cover the north metro.

District scorecard shows steep decline in Somali student achievement

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: December 19, 2014 - 2:22 PM

Minneapolis Public Schools’ latest scorecard shows it has made only slight gains in student achievement and some student groups, particularly Somali students, are struggling even more to meet state standards.

Overall achievement in math and reading scores stayed virtually the same for the district as whole. The scorecard also shows students receiving a 21 or higher on the ACT decreased by 3 percent. 

The scorecard allows the public to take a deep dive into the district’s MCA scores, ACT scores and graduation rates by race, income status and other demographic information. 

But one trend shown in the scorecard is inaccurate, district officials said. The scorecard shows that middle-class Somali children are the lowest performing group in math, with only 11 percent of them meeting standards. The scorecard shows that subgroup was 51 percent proficient in the 2012-2013 school year.

Eric Moore, the district’s director of Research, Evaluation and Assessment, said some 200 Somali students were eligible for free and reduced lunch that did not have that status at the time that they took the standardized test. 

Despite the error, the district still saw a 25 percent drop in the number of middle-class Somali children that meet math standards. The dip was caused by roughly 12 students, Moore said.

“I’ve looked into that data and it’s a problem,” said outgoing board member Mohamud Noor. The district is not adding resources to address the needs of the district’s “newcomers,” students that are new to the country, which are almost entirely Somali.

The school district is equipped with data systems that allow officials to pinpoint exactly where they are losing ground in achievement. That has led to targeted initiatives for certain groups of students. But Noor said the district should be doing more to address the achievement of all students of color.

“You can go to any south west school right now, even [South High School]. Remove the white students and keep the students of color, they will become a priority school,” the designation given to schools with low academic achievement, Noor said. 

Noor, who will not be on the school board come January, said Somali children no longer have access to after school programs that gave them extra tutoring in math, reading and English language skills. Funding was cut for those programs last year.

“The kids used to spend more time getting more support on a one on one level,” Noor said. “Parents are pushing me so hard on that every single day.”

Second survey says Shakopee residents want 'megaschool'

Posted by: Erin Adler Updated: December 19, 2014 - 11:18 AM

A second survey indicates that more Shakopee residents favor building a 1,600 student addition to Shakopee High School, making it a 3,200-student “megaschool," than other options.

The Shakopee school board and a districtwide guidance group received feedback from a recent phone survey on whether to build a second high school, add on to the existing school, create a second high school campus or build a new 3,200-student high school.

The district is making plans to ease an enrollment crunch from early childhood through grade 12. In March 2014, residents voted against a referendum that would have built a second high school.

Since then, the board has been gathering information about what to do next. Results of the professional phone survey of 409 residents indicated that:

-Residents preferred expanding the existing high school, when asked in several different ways.

-When asked which option they preferred, 42 percent chose the addition, the most popular choice.

-There is a good amount of support for a bond referendum, with 65 percent of respondents saying they would vote for it.

- Of the statements presented during the survey, respondents were more likely to support the referendum when they heard that: funds would improve safety and security at all buildings (78 percent more likely), funds would increase access to classroom technology (76 percent more likely), and that enrollment at the high school has been increasing and will continue to increase (70 percent more likely).

-In order for it to pass, the surveyor recommends the cost of the referendum be set at or below $17 per month for a home worth $213,000.

This survey comes after an informal survey last month of 1,900 residents. The most popular option in that survey — which 66 percent of residents said they would approve — was an addition to Shakopee High School.

The board will discuss the options in the coming weeks and make a decision in February for a referendum in May 2015. The full results of this survey and the previous survey are available at: http://bit.ly/1r44oyx

Dual-credit courses proving popular in St. Paul

Posted by: Anthony Lonetree Updated: December 18, 2014 - 12:01 PM

Enrollment in courses allowing students to earn college credits while in high school has nearly quintupled in the past three years at six schools participating in a St. Paul initiative led by the Center for School Change.

Joe Nathan, the center's director, reported on the project's successes during an appearance before the St. Paul School Board earlier this week.

Accompanying him at the meeting were several students, one of whom, a senior at Higher Ground Academy, said that he currently was taking three dual-credit courses -- two being in macroeconomics and chemistry -- and felt he now was "ahead of the game" in furthering his education.

The student is the oldest of 10 children, Nathan said.

The project is a collaborative effort between four St. Paul school district schools and two St. Paul charter schools, and is designed to inspire low-income students and students of color to dream of higher-education possibilities -- and save money on future tuition costs in the process.

One district school, AGAPE High School, serves students who are pregnant or parenting.

According to the Center for School Change, the number of dual-credit enrollments at the six schools has grown from 179 in 2010-11, the year before the project's launch, to 867 in 2013-14. Participation has been strongest at the two charter schools: Higher Ground Academy and Community of Peace Academy.

Nathan told board members: "This is an example of St. Paul collaborating in the best interest of kids."

The Increasing College Readiness Project is funded by $312,000 in foundation grants.

The Minnesota Department of Education recognizes 22 high performing schools

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: December 17, 2014 - 12:27 PM

Brenda CasselliusThe Minnesota Department of Education has recognized 22 "Celebration Schools", an honor given to schools that serve poor students who are demonstrating good achievement.

“I want to congratulate these schools for this incredible accomplishment,” said Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. “Minnesotans should be proud of the work going on in our schools. I look forward to continue learning about their successful efforts to ensure all students succeed and share that work with other schools across the state.”

Some of  metro-area schools receiving the honor include: Cedar Park Elementary in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District, Oak Grove Elementary in Bloomington, Huddleston Elementary and Oak Hills Elementary in Lakeville, Richardson and Weaver Elementary Schools in North St.Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale, the Hmong College Prep Academy and KIPP Minnesota Charter School.

St. Paul Public Schools did not have any schools picking up the designation. Minneapolis Public Schools had one - Kenny Elementary.

Another notable school picking up the honor is The FAIR School downtown. Recently, the West Metro Education Program announced that it was considering transferring ownership of The FAIR School to the Minneapolis or Robbinsdale school districts or possibly giving management of the two FAIR campuses to another member district.

You can see the entire list of schools earning the Celebration designation here.

The "Celebration" designation is part of the state's new school accountability system. Under that system, schools that receive federal poverty aid are eligible to receive designations that signify how they're faring academically.

Reward Schools are the top 15 percent of schools receiving Title I money. Celebration Schools are the 25 percent of schools directly below Reward Schools and Priority schools are in the bottom five percent.

Minnesota does not make the cut for federal early ed grants

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: December 10, 2014 - 10:35 AM

Arne DuncanIn the White House's most recent push to expand preschool options for low-income kids, 18 states were awarded $226 million in federal grants to boost early education efforts. Minnesota did not make the cut.

The state had applied for grants to expand early education efforts within the Northside Achievement Zone, St. Paul Promise Neighborhood, Itasca County and the White Earth Reservation. In 2011, those entities were awarded $45 million in federal Race to the Top grant money.

Minnesota's application for the preschool development grants also called for establishing two new "transformation zones" - one in southern Minnesota and one geared toward suburban communities.

States with either small or no state funded preschool program were eligible to receive development grants. States that have invested more money, or had received Race to the Top grants, were eligible for expansion grants. Minnesota had applied for that kind of grant.

Some of the big winners announced Wednesday at a White House Summit on Early Education include: New York, $24 million; Arizona, $20 million; Illinois, $20 million; and receiving $17.5 million was Alabama, Tennessee, and Virginia.

"Expanding access to high-quality preschool is critically important to ensure the success of our children in school and beyond," said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. "The states that have received new Preschool Development Grants will serve as models for expanding preschool to all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families. These states are demonstrating a strong commitment to building and enhancing early learning systems, closing equity gaps and expanding opportunity so that more children in America can fulfill their greatest potential."

In Dayton's state of the state address last spring, the governor pledged to make sure every three and four-year-old child in Minnesota had access to high quality, affordable early education programs.

He has not revealed how he intends to fund such an effort, but just last week said that funding early education scholarships is one of his priorities for the upcoming session. Since the scholarships' inception in 2012,  the state has funded them to the tune of $53 million.

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