Filling the Learning Gap

It’s that time of year when students are heading back to school. Press Publications asked four school districts, including the Centennial School District, about challenges in learning gaps among students in their district and how schools plan to respond to these challenges during the 2021-22 school year.

 

Mounds View Public Schools 

Q.With the challenges of teaching last year during a pandemic, some are reporting learning gaps of 30% or more in math and possibly other subjects. Do you anticipate learning gaps among students? If so, how will your schools know which students need additional instruction and which students do not?

Angie Peschel.

Angie Peschel

A. Last year was certainly a challenging one for students, parents and teachers, but we’re proud of the efforts everyone made, and we’re confident learning was still happening in our schools.

We use multiple data points including conversations with students and parents to meet our students where they are, and we personalize instruction to help them make growth in their learning.

Q. Is your school district making any curriculum changes as a result? 

A. Our curriculum is based on state standards so there are no curricular changes planned at this point. We will continue to support students where they are in their learning and make adjustments as needed. 

Q. What advice do you have for students or parents to fill in any gaps and make the most of the new school year? 

A. Communicate with your child’s teacher and partner with them to help make the most of the school year. 

Q. Do you anticipate any changes in Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCA tests this year?  

A. We are unaware of any anticipated changes for the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments in spring 2022.

Q. Do you anticipate colleges and universities returning to using college entrance exams in the coming year? 

A. As usual, we will continue to provide all juniors the opportunity to take the ACT at their high school for free this spring as we monitor what local colleges and universities are deciding to do in regards to using college entrance exams. Our students and families are welcomed to contact their dean or the post-secondary coordinator with any questions.

Q. What is new this year at your schools you’d like the community to know?

A. Meals are free for all students, thanks to federal funding. Even so, we’re asking families to complete an Educational Benefits form because they may qualify for other benefits like free or reduced rates on fees for school activities, transportation, home internet, academic tests and college applications.

— Responses submitted by Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Angie Peschel. 

 

Centennial School District

Q. With the challenges of teaching last year during a pandemic, some are reporting learning gaps of 30% or more in math and possibly other subjects. Do you anticipate learning gaps among students? If so, how will your schools know which students need additional instruction and which students do not?

Jeff Holmberg

Jeff Holmberg

A. As the previous school year was a challenge for some of our students, we anticipate some learning gaps. Our educators will work with our students as they return this fall to determine students’ academic levels and determine additional support as needed, as has been the custom in the Centennial School District.

As a district, we will focus on welcoming and re-engaging all students in their schools and their learning. As teachers assess students through assessment tools and getting to know their students, teachers will continue to differentiate instruction as they had for students before last year and offer support to help the student reach their highest potential.

Q. Is your school district making any curriculum changes as a result? 

A. Our teachers continue to improve, enhance, and utilize curriculum resources to meet the needs of our students. We will continue to connect with our students, help our students to achieve their highest potential, and prepare students for their future.

Q. What advice do you have for students or parents to fill in any gaps and make the most of the new school year? 

A. Developing strong relationships between teaching staff, students, and parents is critical to student success. We encourage parents to express their concerns to the student’s teacher/s as soon as possible to allow the teacher to work with the parent and student to provide support as needed.

Q. Do you anticipate any changes in Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCA tests this year?  

A. As a district, we will continue to work with the Minnesota Department of Education regarding the upcoming MCA tests in the spring and implementing any new procedures as required for a successful testing experience for students. The Centennial School District will continue to prepare the students to do 

their best on the MCA tests and use the spring data as an additional assessment to help our teachers support the students.

Q. Do you anticipate colleges and universities returning to using college entrance exams in the coming year? 

A. We will continue to prepare Centennial students for their future goals as we have in the past and continue to provide high-quality and rigorous instruction. We anticipate that our students will continue to have some of the highest scores on college entrance exams.

Q. What is new this year at your schools  you’d like the community to know?

A. Jeff Holmberg leads the Centennial School District as the interim superintendent for the 2021- 2022 school year. 

Mark Grossklaus is the new Executive Director of Teaching and Learning at Centennial.

— Responses submitted by Interim Superintendent Jeff Holmberg.

 

Mahtomedi Public Schools 

Q. With the challenges of teaching last year during a pandemic, some are reporting learning gaps of 30% or more in math and possibly other subjects. Do you anticipate learning gaps among students? If so, how will your schools know which students need additional instruction and which students do not?

Barb Duffrin

Barb Duffrin

Jennifer Reichel

Jennifer Reichel

A. In education, we use several forms of data to help us understand how students are making progress. Among the most familiar to families and community members is the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) data. This once-per-year assessment is intended to understand how well we (as a system) are implementing the Minnesota State standards in the areas of Reading, Math, and Science. We look for trends over multiple years to make curricular and instructional decisions.

When it comes to understanding individual student needs, it is more useful to look at unit tests, projects, daily assignments, and progress checks. These formal and informal assessments help teachers to better understand what additional support or enrichment a student may need and allows for adjustments in the moment to best support learners. 

Q. Is your school district making any curriculum changes as a result?

A. Our curriculum, which is the plan we design to implement the state standards, remains consistent; the pandemic has influenced our resources, staffing and day-to-day instructional strategies to support our students. During the 2020-21 school year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and periods of disrupted learning, our staff prioritized essential, or power standards. This ensured that our students received focused, intentional instruction on the highest-leverage standards. As we enter the 2021-22 school year, our staff will be collaborating with each other across grades to do what we call “vertical teaming.” This type of teaming and collaboration allows teachers in different grades and even schools to discuss the power standards that were taught and use this information to support our students as they advance through our K-12 system.

 Q. What advice do you have for students or parents to fill in any gaps and make the most of the new school year?

A. Remember students learned new skills during the pandemic that can’t be measured by assessments, which will serve them well in the future. At the same time they may be experiencing new social-emotional learning needs. Our best advice is to leverage those new skills and communicate with your teachers about needs you are experiencing so that we can help you access supports.

As a school district, we are also monitoring classroom academic data that would typically indicate an academic intervention. This summer, students were invited to participate in Mahtomedi’s learning programs based on their individual needs. Over 300 students district-wide participated in summer programming that focused on reading, math, and credit recovery for graduation requirements. The summer learning was held in July and August and included free meals and transportation. The goals of our summer learning programming included extending opportunities for students to practice their learning, minimizing summer regression, and creating connection and social-emotional learning opportunities. 

Knowing that the pandemic has also impacted our youngest learners before they even enter school, we created a Kinderstart program for our incoming Kindergarten students (Class of 2034). This gave our incoming students vital classroom skills they’ll need to excel when they start school this fall. 

Q. Do you anticipate any changes in Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCA tests this year? 

A. At this time, we have not received any changes from the Minnesota Department of Education.

Q. Do you anticipate colleges and universities returning to using college entrance exams in the coming year?

A. We recommend that our students and families work closely with their counselor at Mahtomedi High School to identify the entrance requirements related to their post-secondary plans. 

Q. What is new this year at your schools you’d like the community to know?

A. We want our parents, students, and community members to know that we are grateful for their support throughout the pandemic. In a community survey conducted by Morris Leatherman in May 2021, 93% of our community rated the quality of Mahtomedi Public Schools as excellent or good and 92% of our community members said they are proud of our schools and would recommend them to a friend. Community support is so important to us especially after such a challenging year. For the 2021-22 school year, we intend to continue the excellence that our community expects while at the same time delivering new, innovative ways to support our students based on their individual academic and social-emotional needs.

It is our priority and continued commitment to support our students to find personal excellence and feel deeply engaged at school. We know that our students have experienced a tremendous life event that has brought them both profound life skills as well as challenges. We want students to feel supported to explore who they are as a learner and a person right now. For us, this means using data to support them academically as well as help them explore what experiences informed them of where they are today and what they need to inspire their personal excellence and growth.

We were quick to support and respond to technology needs in our district during COVID-19. Our Device for Every Learner distribution was implemented in two months. Every student and teacher had their district device by September 9, 2020. We distributed 678 iPads, 2,968 Chromebooks, and 75 Hotspots. The technology department responded to 2,496 tech support requests from families, students, and staff throughout the school year. Our community data supports the belief that technology is an essential learning tool (89% of our community believes that technology use is absolutely essential or very important for today’s students). A primary source of technology funding at Mahtomedi Public Schools is a voter-approved Capital Projects Levy for Technology (commonly called a technology levy). This levy has been in place since 2002 and is up for renewal by voters in our community on November 2, 2021. The renewal of the levy and continued investment in technology are vital for our school district. With our strategic plan guiding our work, we will move forward with the following funding priorities for the levy renewal: improving our classroom tools, creating support for instructional innovation, ensuring we maintain our infrastructure and security, and providing critically important staff support and professional learning about technology.

— Responses submitted by Superintendent, Barb Duffrin and Director of Teaching and Learning, Jennifer Reichel.

  

White Bear Lake Area Schools

Q. With the challenges of teaching last year during a pandemic, some are reporting learning gaps of 30% or more in math and possibly other subjects. Do you anticipate learning gaps among students? If so, how will your schools know which students need additional instruction and which students do not?

Wayne Kazmierczak

Wayne Kazmierczak

A. Throughout the 2020-21 school year, our building and district leaders engaged in conversations and training around our multi-tiered systems of support. While we have always examined gaps in learning among students, the pandemic has given us an opportunity to accelerate changes in our system to ensure that we are prepared to support our students as we enter the upcoming school year. Each school leadership team conducted a needs assessment. This needs assessment data was utilized as we examined resources and support structures entering this school year.  Educators plan for students learning at different rates every year. We do anticipate that we’ll see larger learning differences. Our initial data assessments, use of data throughout the year, and continued support of educators collaborating together to discuss strategies for our students are of even greater importance as we enter 2021-22.   

 We have a robust academic screening process for students in grades K-8 that was in place prior to the pandemic. All students are screened in reading and math skills three times per year. We use this data, along with information from teachers, to inform instruction both at the classroom level and for students who might need additional support. 

We continue to gain a deeper understanding of our students and will provide targeted support so all students find success. We will continue our K-12 Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) to ensure core instruction is rigorous for all students. This enables alignment of supports at each grade level and at each high school campus. Teachers will continue to monitor students for progress, provide support, and extend learning.

Q. Is your school district making any curriculum changes as a result? 

A. We will continue with our curriculum review process as planned prior to the pandemic. Our priority will be on literacy. We will review and align our assessments to ease communication with families on student learning. Also, we will continue to provide teachers with professional learning on the science of reading. We will continue to implement the 2018 Minnesota K -12 Standards in the Arts and Physical Education. Teachers are working with content experts and leadership to implement the new standards and co-create innovative student experiences.

Q. What advice do you have for students or parents to fill in any gaps and make the most of the new school year?

A. In the school district, we have a strong focus on literacy. We will continue to partner with families to build reading and writing skills for all of our students. We encourage families to read to and read with their children, and to encourage older children to read independently from materials of their choice. Frequent reading exposes students to new words and helps them practice literacy skills.   

Generally speaking, we always encourage parents to provide a supportive, nurturing environment for learning. We encourage parents/guardians to check in with the student(s) often and stay in close contact with the teachers and family members to know how learning is going for the student.

Q. Do you anticipate any changes in Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCA tests this year? 

A. We anticipate additional communication and support from MDE for schools and districts related to the MCAs. As far as we are aware, there are no changes to the exams for the 2021-22 school year. 

Q. Do you anticipate colleges and universities returning to using college entrants exams in the coming year? 

A. There was a movement toward entrance exam optional policies in 4-year colleges prior to the pandemic. The pandemic led many institutions to go test optional for fall 2021, and we anticipate that will continue. According to fairtest.org, more than half of the US 4-year degree institutions are remaining test optional for fall 2022 applicants.

Q. What is new this year at your schools you’d like the community to know?

A. We are excited to expand our BARR (Building Assets Reducing Risks) program, which had been at grade 9 previously, to middle school (grades 6 through 8) and the remainder of high school (grades 10 through 12). School staff will work in collaborative teams to continue to identify, develop, and leverage students’ strengths.

We are excited for the coming school year and for the opportunity to return to in-person school, for five days a week. We recognize that the last two school years have included challenges none of us could have anticipated, but are so proud of the way our students, families, staff and community members have weathered the unknowns. We look forward to continued partnership as we work together to keep our students in our buildings for in-person learning this school year.

— Responses submitted by Superintendent Wayne Kazmierczak.

 

Masks or no masks for 2021?

Q. Does your district plan to implement a mask mandate yes or no and can you explain how the district arrived at that decision? Secondly, what other COVID-19 protocols will be in place at the start of the year? Are there going to be any new protocols in place this year that are different from last spring?

 

Jeff Holmberg, Centennial Schools 

A. At the time the paper went to press: The Centennial School District will follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Minnesota Department of Health, and the Minnesota Department of Education. Face masks, at this point, are a recommendation, not a requirement, for students, staff, and visitors in our schools. 

Students riding the bus are required to wear face masks, per the federal government. The CDC’s Order requires face masks to be worn by all people while on public transportation. This includes bus transportation to/from school. 

Physical distancing will occur to the greatest extent possible when indoors. Staying home when sick with COVID symptoms is essential to help ensure a safe and healthy learning environment for students and staff. Handwashing hygiene will continue to be practiced as well as ventilation and cleaning protocols already in place. 

As a district, we will continue to monitor the recommendations, guidance, as well as our local case counts, prior to the start of school. 

 

Mounds View Public Schools 

A. Ramsey County Public Health has issued new guidance to school districts focused on reducing health risks for schools returning to in-person learning. Specifically, Ramsey County Public Health now states that schools should require masks to be worn by all individuals while indoors, regardless of their vaccination status.

As a result of this updated guidance, Mounds View Public Schools will require that students, staff and visitors wear masks while inside our buildings. The federal government also requires face coverings for individuals while riding on all forms of public transportation, including school buses.

As we’ve seen over the past year, changing conditions prompt changing guidance. We hope conditions will improve in the near future so masks will no longer be necessary. In the meantime, we will continue to work with public health officials on the latest expectations for our schools, and we will communicate all new information as it becomes available. For the latest information, visit moundsviewschools.org. 

 

Wayne Kazmierczak, White Bear Lake Area Schools 

A. As we plan for the upcoming school year, our efforts will focus on keeping our students safe and in our buildings for in-person learning. In order to do so, White Bear Lake Area Schools will follow a Mitigation Plan that uses two indicators of county-level transmission levels (7-day case rate per 100,000 and 7-day positivity rate in Ramsey/Washington Counties as found in the CDC Data Tracker) to determine mitigation strategies that will be implemented in our buildings and on district transportation. The plan aligns with Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance.

Currently, the transmission rate for Ramsey County is High and the rate for Washington County is substantial. If the county-level transmission rate remains in either substantial or high transmission categories through the start of school in early-September, we will be implementing a number of strategies that can be found at isd624.org/BackToSchool

Face coverings are our best mitigation strategy to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our buildings and keep our students in school for in-person learning because they significantly reduce the need for quarantine in the case of exposure.

• Face coverings required for all age 2+, regardless of vaccination status, while in district buildings

• Face coverings required for all age 2+, regardless of vaccination status, on student transportation, per federal requirement

• Face coverings will not be required outdoors

 

Barb Duffrin and Jennifer Reichel, Mahtomedi Public Schools

A. A full list of Mahtomedi’s health and safety protocols is available on the Mahtomedi School Year Plan website, available at mahtomedi.k12.mn.us/schoolyearplan On August 26, the Mahtomedi leadership team will recommend to the Mahtomedi School Board that face coverings be required for all students, staff, and visitors in school and district buildings. Our leadership team uses information from the Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Department of Education, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in conjunction with local public health data (county and school-level) to determine school district health and safety protocols for the 2021-22 school year. We value all of these pieces of information and we will continue to use an approach that uses local (county and school-level), state, and federal information to guide our health and safety protocols throughout the pandemic.

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