The effects of COVID-19 on young learners are not yet fully understood, but reading scores and achievement gap measurements from the 2020-2021 school year show that the White Bear Lake School District has some catching up to do. 

Dr. Alison Gillespie, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, presented a summary of the past school year’s World’s Best Workforce achievement and integration summary at the Oct. 11 school board meeting. 

The World’s Best Workforce Plan is an initiative from the Minnesota Department of Education that addresses five achievement goals to improve teaching and learning. These goals ensure that all students are ready for school, all third graders can read at grade level, all racial and economic gaps between students are closed, all students are ready for a career and college and all students graduate from high school. 

The summary showed the White Bear Lake district lags in third grade reading scores, falling from 62.6 percent reading proficiency on the MCA-III assessment in 2019 to 54.6 percent in 2021. The goal is for that number to increase to 68.1 percent by June 2023. This drop was accompanied by a 14.3 percent decrease in participation, as parents are able to opt their students out of MCA testing. 

In some years, MCA participation has been as high as 99 percent, so this decrease is significant, Gillespie explained. This could cause a negative impact, as participation rate is part of the district’s evaluation.

“It’s a balance because we had a higher opt-out rate last year perhaps because we had many different impacts of the pandemic on us,” Gillespie said. “It’s really about district accountability, and it’s been made about individual student accountability, and I think that’s really hard when you’re looking at a test score and thinking what does this mean for my student.” 

Standardized testing is a concern for many parents, since not all students learn the same way. Although it is a critical tool for the evaluation of the district, Gillespie acknowledged that the district needs to use multiple forms of measurement to show what White Bear students really know and are able to do. 

There is a separate set of goals for Willow Lane Elementary, which qualifies as a racially identifiable school as at least 20 percent of its students come from “protected class” backgrounds such as racial and economic minorities. The goal is for 100 percent of students to be at or above their reading level, but only 46 percent of students were on track at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

The district also saw a slight dip in graduation rates—90.1 percent of students graduated in 2019, compared to 91.2 percent in 2019. The end goal is 96 percent graduation for June 2023. 

Some of the goal items were too complicated by COVID-19 complexities to measure. These included integrated learning field trips, staff development and student access to culturally responsive teachers.  

Although some ground was lost, the district has met or is on track to meet several of its other goals. Its greatest success has been in school readiness. The district aimed for 75 percent of preschool students to be able to accurately count to 20 and recognize at least 10 upper and lowercase letters, especially in their own name. Of enrolled preschoolers, 75.1 percent were able to count to 20, and 85.2 percent were able to recognize at least 10 upper and lowercase letters by the end of the school year. The district also appears to be on track to prepare students for college and careers across racial backgrounds. 

In other action, the board:

• Welcomed its two student liaisons, junior Lauren Collier and senior Bemnet Tessema. 

• Heard a first reading of revisions to the district’s bullying prevention policy. 

• Approved a bid package for the addition and expansion of Birch Lake Elementary School in the amount of $1,913,701.

• Approved a bid package for the addition and expansion of Lakeaires Elementary School in the amount of $1,758,379.

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