[North Branch] School Board hears how test data used; friction over policy being addressed

/ 17 May 2012 / jennifer

Denise Martin, Chisago County Press, May 17, 2012 –

North Branch School Board members last week heard a report from curriculum director Lolene Borsheim describing North Branch schools’ methods for providing academic interventions. Board members in April had questioned what the district is doing with all the data collected from numerous rounds of testing. Borsheim explained that as early as 3 or 4 years of age, North Branch students are being evaluated.

At this age they are expected to show skill in naming pictures, naming letters, rhyming and sounds. In math they are expected to do oral counting, name the numbers and compare quantities (which is larger/smaller.) If the data show interventions are needed the kids can be directed to the appropiate response. Testing and evaluation data track the academic gains of students and also helps determine which methods are the most successful, Borsheim added. The goal is to improve student skills using targeted interventions in reading and math, and move students back into “core” curriculm as soon as possible. The data also helps teachers and administration identify and develop useful tools to enhance learning for advanced students, on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Borsheim said this year’s test data is still being compiled– but middle school students are especially showing great results in the MCA III tests. She told the Board to expect gains of 10 to 15 percent in student proficiency testing in middle school results. High school students who are working to pass their graduation tests are also responding well to data-driven intervention. There were 19 juniors and seniors having issues not passing graduation standards exams and 17 have been successful in retaking the grad tests. It was noted that North Branch was highlighted in the annual US News & World Report school rankings, mainly for its student gains in testing.

The national publication reviews how well thousands of schools provide college prep, their testing results, presence of charter school and/or magnet school opportunities and then announces its Gold, Silver and Bronze medal winning schools. This year 22,000 schools were reviewed and North Branch High School received a bronze medal rank, the only school in this immediate area to be ranked. In other business: the Board unanimously (Member John White was absent) voted to adopt the fee hikes for activities and athletic participation, increase the family cap and increase lunch prices by a nickel. (The charges and proposed revisions were reported last month, following the School Board’s public hearing.) Board Chair Kim Salo appointed members to a new policy subcommittee.

This new group is tasked with prioritizing policies most in need of attention, developing a timeline for adopting district policies and wording of the policies. The district administration will meet with Board members Kirby Ekstrom, Randy Westby and Trent Jensen for their first subcommittee meeting June 6, at 7 a.m. The six member School Board has three new members. There have been some balky meetings where productivity bogs down as policy wording undergoes indefinite review. The creation of a subcommittee is one way to include those members with interest in the fine points of policy from the outset. Also: during open microphone the Board heard again from people advocating for a settlement of the expired teacher contracts. Residents and teachers told the Board members to resolve negotiation issues. The two sides are in mediation, there was a session held Friday last week the day after the Board session, with no progress reported. Board member Randy Westby serves on the negotiating subcommittee that meets with NBEA representatives, and he stated in committee updates at the end of the Board meeting that the district position, “…is driven by the desire to keep as many positions as we can,” in light of the long term deficit North Branch faces as one of the least-funded districts in the state. Donations acknowledged by the Board include: $1,500 from North Branch Lions for scholarships; from Box Tops for Education, $69; the Class of 2013 provided approximately $15,000 raised for prom.

In donations for concerts in the park, which is a community education program, there were donations of about $1,700 total from Peoples Bank, Stearns Bank, NB Water & Light, NB Lionesses, Andersen Corp. and MN Energy Resources. Additional scholarship funding was provided by Pheasants Forever, National Honor Society and Cathy Ziegler. And for the general fund a United Way citizen match of $143 (Gordon Munns) and a voluntary excess levy $225 donation from Barb and Dennis Hensch.

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Tentative settlement reached in North Branch

In a closed mediation session on Friday, May 12, a tentative agreement was reached between the North Branch Area Public Schools school board and the school district’s teachers union, the North Branch Area Education Association (NBEA). Union leadership will be reviewing the terms with members this week and membership is expected to vote on the contract on May 30. Provided membership approves the terms of the two-year contract, it will come before the school board for approval at its June 14 regular meeting.

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