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Local schools fall short on statewide science test

Christine Weymouth expects some difficult conversations will take place over the next several weeks in Independent School District 192. She expects teachers and administrators to take a hard look at why district schools lagged behind state averages nearly across the board in the percentage of students meeting or exceeding standards on Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment science exams.

This is the third year for the test, given to students in fifth and eighth grades and in high school. Students are placed into one of four categories based on their results -- either does not meet state standards, partially meets standards, meets standards or exceeds standards.

At Farmington Elementary School, only 21.2 percent of fifth graders either met or exceeded standards, well short of the state average of 46 percent. Last year, 35.5 percent of FES students met or exceeded state standards on the MCA science test.

"I'm not satisfied with (the results)," said Weymouth, the district's assistant superintendent. "I don't think Brad (superintendent Brad Meeks) is either."

At Meadowview Elementary School 30.5 percent of fifth graders met state standards.

Weymouth said there will be a lot of discussion in the weeks ahead about what is working and what isn't in the district. At North Trail Elementary School 59.4 percent of students met or exceeded state standards. Weymouth expects discussions about what teachers are doing there that works and how those methods can be spread to other schools in the district.

"I think it's a full-scale, what are we doing at five," Weymouth said. "Not just five, but what are we doing at grades two, three, four in science. Now that we have the material. Now that we've reviewed, what we have to teach?

"We don't have less able kids than the rest of the state. It's a matter of how we're going about it in the classroom."

The district reviewed its science curriculum last year for students in kindergarten through ninth grade and has implemented some new materials, including classroom kits filled with hands-on science experiments. But Weymouth said it's important that teachers work together to determine the best ways to teach science.

The district had mixed results at the secondary level. At Farmington High School 43.7 percent of students met state standards, below the state average of 51.8 percent.

"We have to have a hard conversation with that group of teachers that teaches that," Weymouth said, noting that last year 50.5 percent of FHS students met state standards on the test.

Levi P. Dodge Middle School had 48.5 percent of eighth graders meet state standards, ahead of the state average of 48 percent, but at Robert Boeckman Middle School only 42.9 percent of eighth graders met standards.

Weymouth said she can make guesses now about why some schools struggled on the test, but she plans to examine the test data in more detail. The district had already planned meetings next week with elementary principals and she expects the science test to be a topic of discussion there. She also expects it to come up when the district holds three days of school improvement discussions Aug. 11-13.

"It's an indication for us," Weymouth said. "It's an indication that some of our schools are struggling with science standards and we need to take a closer look."

The science results do not affect districts' standing with regard to national No Child Left Behind goals.

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.

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