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Teachers at city schools learning to work with test results

WILLMAR -- Teachers in Willmar's schools have found a number of ways to use information from the standardized tests their students take each year.

Teachers and administrators from Willmar's four school buildings spoke at a Willmar School Board workshop session Monday afternoon. The meeting was recorded and will be shown on public access cable channel 19 this week.

The district administers tests from the Northwest Evaluation Association to students beginning in second grade. The tests are given twice a year and measure growth from fall to spring each school year.

All schools in the state give students the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, the tests used to grade school districts.

Teachers who have been taught to analyze the test results, called data coaches, talked about their work taking 65-page spreadsheets and developing information that can be useful to teachers.

The information can be used to show teachers if they need to spend more time on certain concepts. The fall NWEA results can help teachers set goals for their students for the rest of the year, the data coaches said.

Teachers in the district's two elementary schools have a short conference with each student once a week, said Roosevelt Elementary Principal Patti Dols. They keep a log of their talks and the goals set at the conferences, so "we know those children so well, inside and out."

Teacher Tom Beyer described his efforts to use test data to gauge his own performance and to look at trends. However, when board members asked about it, he said the data alone would not be a fair gauge of a teacher's effectiveness if it compared one year to another, because it would be looking at different students.

"There's a lot of things teachers teach that aren't on this test," he added.

Middle School teachers said they have found that their practice of having extended math and reading classes on alternating days has helped their students show growth in those subjects.

They also use the data to map student growth from year to year and distributed the information to students at recent conferences.

Middle school teacher Gretchen Baumgarn said the exercise of making graphs of current and past test results for each of her students showed her a lot. It was useful to spend time focusing on each student, she added.

At the high school, test information is used to help identify students who may need extra attention in preparatory classes called Gateway to Graduation. An overarching goal at the school is to get students to complete courses, Assistant Principal Paul Schmitz said.

Beyer said he is not a fan of the federal No Child Left Behind education law or the MCA testing, but he has learned to work with it. He resisted teaching for the tests at first, he said, but decided it would be "a disservice to my students" if he doesn't help them prepare for the tests.

"If they're going to be tested on it, I need to teach it to them," he said.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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