School District 197 Superintendent Blog
Welcome to my blog! The purpose of the blog is to provide an avenue for communication with parents and community members. I will be sharing our progress in implementing the District Strategic Framework. Periodically I will also post photos and share news of special events that I attend in our schools.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Putting Things Into Context: District Achievement Scores

Dear Friends and Families of District 197,

There has been abundant criticism of district test scores in recent weeks.  In this day and age of school accountability, test scores are given intense scrutiny.  And well they should. Test scores are important. Minnesota has set the achievement bar high with some of the most challenging academic standards in the country on which students are annually tested.

To set the record straight, District 197 scores similarly to the entire state of Minnesota in reading, math, and science on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs).  We score on par with districts who are like us and serve similar groups of students.  But test scores don't tell the whole story, and they should not be used to characterize the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of a school or district.

Hidden in averages are layers of data about special populations of students.  It is a well-documented fact that schools with a concentration of students from disadvantaged backgrounds will appear to be performing less well when compared to schools or districts with concentrations of students from advantaged backgrounds. Differences in achievement exist.  It is called the achievement gap.  It persists in our country and the entire state of Minnesota, and we fully acknowledge the achievement gap exists in District 197 as well. It does not, however, define us.

A hard look at the achievement gap and the reasons that surround it is not an effort to blame students or offer excuses.  Closing the gap is what we are called to do, and we accept this challenge. The most fair and accurate way to compare our scores to other districts, however, is to compare us to districts who serve similar groups of students.  The factor that impacts school achievement the most is poverty.  

There are 48 school districts in the nine-country metro area.  It might come as a surprise to some that our district has the twelfth highest free and reduced lunch rate in the metro area.  Of the 48 districts, there are nine school districts who are like us in terms of the number of free and reduced lunch percentages (+/- 5 of the District 197 rate).  These districts are shown below.  I list their free and reduced lunch percentages alongside the reading, math, and science MCA results for 2014.  The state average and District 197 scores are also shown.  For illustrative purposes, I also show the rates and scores of the top five school districts in the metro area who also happen to have very low concentrations of poverty.  Districts are listed from lowest poverty rate to highest.

District Free/ Reduced Lunch % 2014 MCA Reading  2014 MCA Math 2014 MCA Science
Minnetonka 7% 80% 81% 79%
Edina 8% 80% 82% 72%
Mahtomedi 10% 82% 85% 85%
Wayzata 13% 81% 82% 79%
Westonka  19% 80% 81% 70%
Inver Grove Heights  37% 58% 61% 55%
Hopkins  37% 64% 64% 54%
STATEWIDE 38% 59% 60% 53%
Spring Lake Park 38% 55% 57% 41%
Osseo 41% 57% 59% 46%
District 197 42% 59% 54% 57%
Bloomington  42% 59% 61% 52%
Burnsville  46% 54% 54% 51%
Roseville  46% 59% 58% 46%
S. St. Paul  46% 51% 53% 41%

The degree to which poverty impacts student achievement becomes apparent as you examine the data in this chart, and it reflects state and national patterns. The higher the free and reduced lunch rate in a district, the lower scores tend to be.  In all cases, we score similarly to districts who are like us in terms of students served.  You perhaps also noted that our poverty rate exceeds the state average.  

District 197 test scores do not signal that we are a failing district.  What they signal is that we need to do more to meet the unique needs of all learners no matter what their economic background.  We are committed to this challenge.

While presenting information about the upcoming school referendum in the past month, I have frequently been asked if technology will help close the achievement gap.  I have been asked if it will improve test scores.  I believe that it is part of a comprehensive solution.  Simply having a computer in the classroom won't be enough, however.  We need to ensure teachers and students are using technology as a tool to amplify learning.  We need to use it personalize learning and individualize instruction in ways that are impossible without technology.  This we can do.  In fact, access to technology at school can do much to create equity for students who do not have access at home.

I hope you will see that it is important to look at test scores in the appropriate context.  If you would like to do your own analysis, visit the website of Minnesota's Report card.  There is a wealth of information to assist you.


Nancy Allen-Mastro

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Stadium at Henry Sibley High School?

Dear Friends and Families of School District 197,

I am told that a stadium on the campus of Henry Sibley High School has long been a topic of discussion in our community.  For the first time in the history of our school district, voters will have a chance to decide this question on November 4 along with two other questions on the ballot.

District 197 is proposing a $4.5M bond to build a stadium on the campus of Henry Sibley High School.  Currently the stadium for the district is Matson Field, located next to Heritage E-STEM Magnet School.  Matson Field is used for varsity football and soccer.  No other sports are allowed to play on the field in an effort to protect the natural grass turf, thereby limiting its use.

Communities take great pride in their public schools.  Locating the stadium on the campus of Henry Sibley High School will provide a central location for major school events and serve as a focal point for the community.  A sense of place will exist in a way that is not possible when a varsity stadium is located somewhere other than the high school campus.

Even more than that, the stadium would be equipped with artificial turf, making it possible for more age groups and teams at all levels to use the stadium for practice and play.  This increase in use increases access to quality playing surfaces for all ages.  Spring sports, who often have to practice indoors initially as they await the final snow melt, could benefit from having an artificial turf surface on which to practice.  Physical education classes could even use the field during the school day.

 Proposed stadium layout

For a home valued at $200,000, the cost per month for the stadium would be $0.42 or $5 per year.  In order for the question regarding the stadium to pass, it must receive a majority of votes from the public, and questions one (technology) and two (security) must also pass.  This contingency was put into place to ensure our classroom and safety needs are also met.

The District intends to leave Matson Field as a green space.  It will provide youth and middle school sports a space to practice or play, for the field would not need to be maintained at a varsity level.

Some have asked why a track is not part of the stadium design.  Putting a field inside a track limits the square footage of the field.  When the field is not constrained by a track it can meet maximum soccer and lacrosse field dimensions, which the proposed design meets. Nordic ski enthusiasts have also expressed concern about losing ground currently used for meets and practices.  We believe we can accommodate the team by how we arrange fencing and gates, which would enable continued use of the slopes next to where the proposed stadium would be built.

Another question from the community has been in regards to the "sledding hill" at Henry Sibley if the stadium is built. It will not be impacted.

I hope you will review information about the referendum our website and specifically, become more acquainted with the stadium proposal.  If you have questions, please do not hesitate to let us know.


Nancy Allen-Mastro