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Star Tribune writers tracking education issue

MCA test results tossed at 2 schools after teachers helped students

Incidences of teachers assisting students as they took state standardized tests this year in Cannon Falls and St. Paul has led to the tossing of nearly 50 exam results, state Department of Education reports show.

At Cannon Falls Elementary, a teacher monitoring fifth-graders admitted to "helping students find the correct answers by writing on their scratch paper, giving definitions to math terms and telling students what 'type' of problem it was," according to a state report.

The teacher quit in May, citing personal reasons unrelated to the testing issue, and the math results for the 26 students who took the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) were tossed.

"We take testing very seriously and we want what's best for our kids," Superintendent Beth Giese said Thursday. "It's the first time we've ever had an incident."

At Linwood Monroe Arts Plus in St. Paul, a teacher/proctor was put on administrative leave after going beyond the role of simply reading test directions and "providing students with direct prompting and direction on test items while they took the test," the school district said.

The results for 21 seventh-graders were invalidated, as a result.

Each year, students take the MCAs to chart the progress of schools and districts, and to monitor school improvement and accountability. Scores do not affect a student's grades in school. Altogether, more than 500,000 Minnesota students take some or all the tests covering math, reading and science.

The state Department of Education is required by state law to maintain the integrity of the MCAs, and as such, looks into all reports of possible test security breaches.

The St. Paul and Cannon Falls violations were first reported by the St. Paul Pioneer Press, which requested copies of all reports submitted to the state in 2014-15.

Staff Writer Erin Adler contributed to this report.

Lakeville district to put $3.2 million levy on November ballot

In November, the Lakeville district plans to ask voters to approve a $3.2 million levy referendum -- just two years after voters approved a $5.6 million referendum.

The school board hasn't yet approved putting the tax request on the ballot, but is expected to do so at an upcoming board meeting, according to Michael Baumann, executive director of business services.

The first question, a $2 million capital levy, would fund technology upgrades, including new devices. It would also pay for security improvements and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) equipment at the high schools.

Question number two is a $1.2 million operating levy that would hire more teachers to reduce class sizes at the high school, restore elementary-level art classes and add fifth-grade band. It would also help fund curriculum for Project Lead the Way, an engineering program.

The board had considered making the passage of each question contingent on the other question's approval, but decided against it. Still, the two questions go together, said Judy Keliher, board member.

"Either one question or the other does not do it by itself," she said. "The success of both questions will help move our strategic plan forward."

In the seven years before the 2013 referendum, the district cut $30 million from its budget, resulting in bigger class sizes, higher fees for activities and busing, and art and music cuts.

Slowly, the district is bringing some of those things back. Using money from the 2013 referendum, more elementary school teachers have been hired, decreasing class sizes. The 2015-16 budget includes more money, allowing the district to reduce activity fees for some sports and re-institute return busing from games.

Keliher said the strategic plan guided the proposed 2015 referendum, and that plan was made by residents.

"The voters are the ones who helped draft and build the strategic plan," she said. "Everybody had input in developing it ... This isn't our vision, it's their vision."