The district average percentage of students achieving proficiency for math was 69.5 percent last spring, up from 68.3 percent the previous year, in comparison with a state average score of 65.9 percent last spring and 64 percent the previous year.
This test is given in grades three through eight and 11. A portion of the grade 11 test, called the GRAD, is used to determine if students meet the math requirements for graduation. Students who don't pass must retake it each year until they pass or meet the math requirement in an alternate manner.
The percent of Anoka-Hennepin students proficient on the GRAD math test increased from 54.8 percent in 2009 to 55.3 percent last year in comparison with state proficiency of 57.8 percent in 2010 and 57.3 percent in 2009.
The percentage of Anoka-Hennepin students who scored at a proficient level in reading declined slightly but remained above the state average.
Last spring 74.2 percent of district students achieved proficiency compared with 75.4 percent the year before. The state average changed slightly, from 72 percent in 2009 to 72.34 percent in 2010.
This test is given in grades three through eight and 10. Similar to math, a portion of the grade 10 test is also used as a graduation requirement.
Last spring 81.4 percent of students met the GRAD reading requirement in grade 10 with 81 percent the previous year. State proficiency was 78 percent in 2010 and 77.6 percent in 2009.
The performance of Anoka-Hennepin students on the GRAD writing test dropped by nearly one percent but remains above the state average. This test, which is also required for graduation, is first administered to students in grade 9.
Students who don't pass must take it each year until they pass. Last spring 91.6 percent of ninth grade students passed the test compared with 92.7 percent the previous year. The state average increased a point from 89.5 to 90.6 percent.
"We are optimistic when we see progress at many schools," said Superintendent Dennis Carlson, "it demonstrates that the improvements we are making are having an impact. However, we still have more work to do to ensure that all our students are proficient."
Throughout the year, instructional leaders will review test results in detail in an effort to pinpoint strategies that have worked well at particular schools and share the information with all schools.
Some schools made enormous improvement, especially. For example, at Mississippi and Sand Creek Elementary Schools, the number of students achieving proficiency in science increased by 20 percent. Principals each attributed the big improvement to the Specialization Project in grades four and five, in which teachers specialize in either science and math or language arts and social studies. "Specialization gives more focus on science. When each teacher taught all subjects, there was often less emphasis on science," said Principal Mark Hanson, Mississippi School.
Principal Paul Anderson said teachers from all grades at Sand Creek tried the sample science test so they would understand what fifth graders needed to know and be able to do on the test. "Each grade took ownership of putting in place the science skills necessary along the way so that in fifth grade (the only elementary grade in which the test is given), the students had what they needed to be successful," he said.
Roosevelt Middle School made the largest gains of any secondary school, with a nearly 17 percent improvement in science. Principal Greg Blodgett was very pleased with improvement, but not surprised. "Our teachers know our curriculum documents very well and they follow them," he said. The curriculum documents focus on the state standards, which are covered in the tests.
Blodgett believes use of professional learning communities made a big difference too. Professional learning communities are small groups of teachers that meet weekly or more often to discuss their instruction, assessment and student learning. "Our science teachers work especially well in PLCs. They all agree on what they need to teach, how they are going to assess it to make sure kids learn, what they are going to do if students have learned and what they are going to do if students haven't learned. They develop common assessments based on the essential skills," he said.
Improving student achievement - elementary schools
While the decline in reading proficiency was disappointing, Carlson was pleased that a number of schools showed improvement, especially in grade five where 19 of 28 schools improved.
The elementary curriculum department is addressing the need for more staff development for teachers, especially in the area of literacy. In addition, the district purchased new materials called Making Meaning that focus on reading comprehension skills. This will be part of the balanced literacy approach to teaching reading that has been in use in Anoka-Hennepin schools for a number of years. Research has found balanced literacy to be the most effective approach for teaching reading. It incorporates multiple reading and writing strategies, including phonics, to reach students who have a variety of different learning styles.
The district is also implementing a literacy intervention program in several of the schools with greatest need. "We have had a concentrated effort in math and, as a result, we expect we will have fewer schools that didn't make Adequate Yearly Progress in math. We want to use that same successful model of focus and concentration with literacy," Mary Wolverton, associate superintendent-elementary.
In addition, the district is expanding the Specialization Project so it will be in all elementary schools this coming year. Five years ago this program started with grades four and five teachers at four schools. After proving successful, has expanded to more schools each year. The teachers receive intensive training in their area of specialization and have more time to prepare lessons because they are teaching fewer subjects, but to more students. "Schools that have had specialization for a numbers of years area are showing good results in achievement," said Wolverton.
Improving student achievement - secondary schools
In addition, a reading and math intervention program for students who struggle with reading or math or both is being developed to provide the necessary help they need to learn all the standards those area. Federal stimulus money will be used to expand Advantage Math Recovery at the middle level and employ a reading and math intervention specialist to assist in developing very targeted secondary math and reading intervention plans. These interventions will range from additional time before or after school to additional math or reading support courses.
As part of Continuous Improvement Plan (CIP), schools will examine the new to identify achievement gaps. "We will also look at data over time, examine data from similar schools in the district and state, and reflect on current CIP plans," said Michelle Langenfeld, associate superintendent-middle school. CIP plans will then be modified to include new strategies aimed at improving student achievement.
Last year middle and high school teachers spent a great deal of time last school year verifying the alignment of the math and reading courses to state standards. This year teachers will develop common bi-weekly quizzes and tests and end-of-trimester assessments for all courses. Data from these will help teachers adjust their instruction to help all students gain proficiency in all standards.