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Principals see progress despite AYP listing

Mary Thompson knows there are areas where her school can improve. But the Rosemount Middle School principal also believes the education her students get now is better than it was four years ago.

No matter what the state's list of schools failing to make adequate academic progress might say.

RMS was one of two Rosemount schools on the list the Minnesota Department of Education released last week. The school was identified because the performance of its special education students on a Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment math test given in the spring did not meet state standards. But when Thompson looks at that list she sees progress, not problems.

Last year, when RMS was also on the state's list, the school was identified for the performance of both special education students and students who receive free or reduced-price lunches.

"When we look at our data from last spring, we improved in five areas over a four-year period," Thompson said. "That means our kids are achieving at a higher level. Not the same kids, but the same grade of kids. We have been on (the list) for several things. The only thing we were on for this year was our special education math. That's huge."

Every middle school in Independent School District 196 was on the state's list this year, several for the performance of more than one student group.

Thompson said the school has made a concerted effort in recent years to improve student performance on the MCA test, which is the most significant factor used to decide whether schools are making adequate progress. Teachers and administrators use each year's results to identify areas where they can improve their curriculum.

"We've taken the data and really looked at the individual student, looked at where they need to improve," Thompson said. "Each student, our teachers know where that student is and where they need to improve.

"I really am happy. Our teachers did a lot of hard work."

Among the changes, the school is adjusting the order in which it teaches some science subjects to ensure students have studied everything that's on the MCA science test by the time the test is given in the spring.

The work seems to be paying off, too. Thompson said RMS students have shown the biggest improvement among district middle schools over a four-year period. RMS scores are above the district averages at sixth and seventh grade and just below the district average in eighth grade.

That improvement is good news for Thompson, but she gets frustrated because it often gets lost in the shuffle when the state's list is released each year. Schools on the list are often referred to as failing schools, and Thompson doesn't believe that's fair.

"We're serving students academically better," Thompson said. "In the 12 years I've been here we've never looked at data like we do now. I'm encouraged.

"If you don't have the background in what we're doing, it's easy to say, 'Yep, RMS is a failing school,' and it's not that way at all."

Rosemount High School principal John Wollersheim tells much the same story. RHS was identified this year for the second straight year based on the performance of free-and-reduced lunch students on the MCA math test.

Like Thompson, Wollersheim likes the idea of having standards schools can aim for. But he sees flaws in the test.

"(The system) assumes we're going to do a better job teaching, and that's the good side," Wollersheim said. "The bad side, I think the best test would allow us to look at each individual student's growth over time."

The current system doesn't do that. It compares this year's eighth graders to last year's eighth graders rather than tracking them as they move on to high school.

Wollersheim said overall MCA scores were up at RHS.

"We feel good about that," Wollersheim said. "We also know if you dive deep into the data there's improvement to make."

Both Thompson and Wollersheim believe they have work to do. But both are confident in the educations their schools offer. No matter what the list says.