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Early assessment is meant to jump start learning

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The back-to-school process is kicking off a little bit earlier than usual this year at Farmington elementary schools.

With two days of literacy assessments next week, Farmington teachers hope to get a head start on the new year. The idea is to bring in all elementary school students before the start of the school year so teachers can get a better idea of their literacy level - who needs help, and who might need some additional challenges.

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The idea of assessing students at the beginning of the school year is not new, but in the past most teachers have had to find time during the school day to meet one-on-one with each student. As class sizes get bigger, that gets increasingly difficult. Getting to everyone often took weeks.

The district's kindergarten and first grade teachers have done pre-school assessments for several years, and North Trail Elementary School kindergarten teacher Kim Bolleson said the process makes a big difference.

"This probably saves us about a month of getting to know them," she said. "It's changed our teaching quite a bit."

North Trail principal Steven Geis said the teachers asked for the additional assessment time, and North Trail third grade teacher Lindsay Bell said she is looking forward to the opportunity.

"It saves a lot of valuable instructional time," she said. "Rather than squeezing them in, you really get a chance to sit one on one for 30 minutes in that non-threatening, peer-free environment."

Teachers see other benefits to the schedule change, too. Bringing students in one more time before school starts Sept. 4 gives kids an additional chance to meet their teacher and get comfortable in their new classroom. It also gives administrators a clearer idea of whether the students who are registered are likely to show up when school starts - or whether there are new students who are not yet registered.

In the past, Geis said, schools have been surprised on the first day of school and found themselves scrambling to add additional sections at some grades.

The Farmington School District is not alone in moving to summer assessment sessions for elementary students. The Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District will assess all of its elementary school students on Aug. 21 and 22. That district sent all of its teachers to training for a new style of assessment that will allow more in-depth evaluation of students' skill levels. Farmington will continue to use its existing evaluation method.

Letters informing parents of the assessments and inviting them to sign up for times went out last week.

Geis expects some bumps and hiccups the first year, but he expects good things from the program.

"I only see this getting bigger and better," he said.

To make the new evaluation schedule work under current teacher contracts the district will cut two instructional days off of the end of the school year. Teachers and administrators say it is a trade worth making.

"It's definitely worth the time," Bolleson said. "Hopefully parents will see that too."

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Nathan Hansen
Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.
(651) 460-6606
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