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School assessments run smoothly

Second grader Lily Swanson reads with teacher Amanda Konop during last week's assessments.

Talk about it in general enough terms, and the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District's plan to assess the reading ability of all of its students in two days last week seems pretty straightforward. You bring the students in, you have them read a few books, and you're done.

Easy, right?

See the process in action, though, and you realize how big an undertaking it is to bring in every single student for a 45-minute assessment, then get the results of those sessions into the computer so teachers can use them to prepare for the first day of school.

It's a little bit like an assembly line, though most of it is invisible to students. All they know is they're reading books and reciting lists of words with their new teacher. In the meantime, their parents are filling out forms, runners are collecting completed assessments from desks in front of each classroom and teams of teachers are entering data into an online system that will help them break down where individual students are doing well and where they are struggling.

"It's been a lot of planning and preparation in order for us to use the time wisely," Rosemount Elementary School principal Tom Idstrom said last Wednesday as the process took place around him.

All of the district's licensed elementary school staff worked Tuesday and Wednesday last week to make sure everything got done.

It all made for some busy days. In many cases teachers were scheduled nearly straight through from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Teachers believe the results will be worth the work, though. They were doing these kinds of assessments anyway, but in the past they had to squeeze them in during the school day. That takes away from instruction time, and it delays the time until teachers are able to identify individual students' needs and abilities.

"This would have been 21 hours of testing we would have had to do during the school year," fourth grade teacher Maureen Soderholm said. "That gives us an extra month and a half."

Second grade teacher Amanda Konop had a busy first day. She had one of those wall-to-wall 12-hour schedules. By the middle of her second day her lips were starting to get chapped and her voice was a little hoarse from leading her students through their assessments. But she was still cheerful as she followed along with students reading about birds or trucks.

Konop said she likes that she will be able to group her students by ability levels before school starts.

"On the first day, you know the students. You kind of have a sense already of where their reading level is," she said.

There are some other benefits to the new system, too. Parents fill out paperwork like field trip permission slips and emergency cards all in one place, which means that information isn't trickling in to teachers over the first weeks of the school year. And students get an early introduction to their new classroom and a chance to meet one on one with their new teacher. There will be another open house before school starts Sept. 4, but it's not always possible for teachers to meet everyone at those events.

"I think it gets them a little excited about school and coming back," Soderholm said. "It's gotten me excited about coming back."

Idstrom said response to the evaluations has been good, at least at RES. All parents were contacted, and nearly everyone who wasn't on vacation or otherwise unavailable during the two assessment days signed up for an appointment. Some parents who couldn't make it during the two-day assessment period worked out alternate appointments with their child's teacher.