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Year-round schedule could help test scores

Published 10:36am Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Though it has only been underway for several months, Austin’s Sumner Elementary School may be proving that its 45/15 schedule — or year-round schedule — has positive effects on students.

Principal Sheila Berger, who spoke at Monday’s Austin Public School Board meeting, has been satisfied with the schedule, which began in August 2011. Though it is unclear whether the schedule will benefit Sumner on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment exams and result in the school meeting Adequate Yearly Progress under federal No Child Left Behind law, preliminary test scores show improvements.

For example, the school started a new reading curriculum in response to failing AYP and is in the second year of a new math curriculum. Students’ fall standardized reading Scantron tests rose 31 points from the previous year, while math tests rose 40 points from the previous fall. Where 83 percent of first-graders were using Phonics, only 7 percent needed further instruction after completing that program after 12 weeks. One of four students moved up four or more benchmark points on their reading assessments, as well.

One of the goals of a 45/15 calendar is to curb learning loss that can occur during a summer break.

“We are in fact seeing that,” Berger said about students retaining more information.

“As we look at where our kids came in in August and tested, that was much higher than it had been the previous two years,” she added. “So, in fact, shortening that summer caused our students to do better in those initial assessments.”

It’s still too early to make wide-sweeping conclusions about the year-round schedule, Berger noted. Much of the improved scores could result from Sumner’s 44 percent mobility rate, or 44 percent new students. Yet winter scores on reading and math improved from the previous year, as well. Sumner more than doubled its number of kids meeting and exceeding the math portion of Scantron tests.

Berger said the MCA tests results, which will be available in July, will be the true indicator.

The schedule has improved morale as well. While it’s tough to gauge the morale of the student body, Berger said suspensions were cut in half. Parents have enjoyed the three-week breaks; students have said the school year is going faster, and staff and faculty have said they feel well-rested and prepared.

Though Berger didn’t mention complaints or issues with the new schedule, she said parents will be surveyed in January. The school may have yet to iron out any potential problems.

Sumner officials will be begin next year’s registration soon. Letters will be mailed to area parents with children in kindergarten through fourth grade in case they are interested about enrolling their kids.

AHS revamps course guide

Austin High School’s course guide, which lists all the classes and course descriptions, will look much different next year.

However, district officials see that as a good thing. No courses are being dropped or undergoing major changes. The new guide’s purpose will be to better serve students by showing them what prerequisites they should have and what classes they should keep choosing as they move toward college. Baskin and AHS officials looked at other school districts to get ideas for AHS’ new course guide. The board approved the changes for next school year.

AHS follows other schools’ positive behavior model

The board approved Austin High School to apply for Minnesota Department of Education funds toward a Positive Behavior Intervention and Support system within its building.

The PBIS system aims to create a positive climate within schools that are less reactive, aversive, dangerous and that are more engaging, responsive, preventive and productive.

Katie Baskin, AHS assistant principal, and Jackie Ternus, AHS student psychologist, have been happy with the PBIS results at Woodson Kindergarten and Ellis, which both received funding last year.

Under the PBIS system, schools designate a team of employees who will receive training on behavioral issues and other school conflicts.

Budget concerns around the corner

The district is inching closer to tackling its future budget concerns. The district should have a preliminary 2012-2013 budget forecast by the April school board meeting.

Each year budgets have to be set by June 30, which is the end of a school district’s fiscal year. Budgets will be planned throughout that time.

Despite concerns of cash flow issues looming this summer and possible budget cuts in 2013-2014, Board Chairman Jeff Kritzer said officials are not recommending any budget cuts and the district still has an “adequate fund balance to go through next year without any budget reductions.”

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