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NYM strives to improve test scores

New York Mills Elementary School aims to increase reading achievement by at least 6 percent on next year's state-mandated tests.

A school support team, consisting of administration, teachers and parents, put together a School Improvement Plan that lays out ways to help students achieve Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) - a standard that needs to be met in order to pass federal No Child Left Behind guidelines.

The final draft of this plan will be presented to the school board on Monday, Dec. 19.

In the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, the elementary school did not make AYP. However, it did make AYP in 2010-11 after following a similar school improvement plan. This achievement put the elementary school into a 'safe harbor zone,' which requires another year of improvement to get rid of the negative AYP status.

In compliance with the AYP guidelines, the school is required to write a plan that would address challenges in the school and include reasonable goals to increase student improvement.

Challenges within


The school has failed to meet AYP in the past within two subgroups: special education, and free and reduced lunch.

All students are required to pass the same federal standardized MCA-II tests. By law, just 1 percent of the school population may take the Minnesota Test of Academic Skills (MTAS), which is a test for the most severely cognitively impaired students. Two percent of the school population may take the MCA modified version. For NY Mills, this equals out to be a total of three students.

NY Mills' special education population has grown, largely due to open enrollment. Even if the subgroup is growing, the percentages for taking the modified tests do not increase, which means special education students are taking the regular MCA-II tests.

The other sub group that has struggled to meet the AYP standards is the free and reduced lunch group, which consists of 46 percent of the school population.

Superintendent Todd Cameron said some kids who qualify for free and reduced lunch live in households that have to prioritize other things, like heat and food. These kids often miss out on educational opportunities that must be paid for, like pre-school.

Despite these challenges, the school has come up with a plan to increase reading scores, especially in these subgroups.

The plan

One part of the plan is to continue offering a leveled library system in the classroom, which offers books for every level of reader.

The school will also continue to build a professional development library, which brings informational texts to teachers helping them use scientifically-based methods and strategies in the classroom.

According to the written plan, this library will help students because it will help staff use instructional texts to make an extra effort in comprehension, oral language, and small group instruction.

The district has also purchased memberships with the International Reading Association (IRA) and Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). These educational groups offer services and professional development training to bring the best information to the classroom.

Another section of the plan states that staff will meet monthly with Literacy Coach Lisa Novak to discuss instructional strategies. They will share information and assessment data in order to improve student achievements.

Plus, the school will once again offer a free week-long assisted reading class in August to give a jumpstart to struggling readers, helping them prepare for the structure of the school day. Administration is looking at expanding this program with additional funding. Current funding has come from private local donors.

The last part of the plan includes teacher assessments. The principal will go into classrooms, assessing teachers and providing feedback in order to improve instruction.

The AIMSweb will also provide data of teacher assessment. AIMSweb is a monitoring system that tests students three times a year to provide continued feedback on how teacher instruction affects student progress.

MCA-II testing for the 2011-12 school year will begin in March and go through May.