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Commentary: Falling test scores are a wake-up call for district

By Wes Mader Community Columnist Nov 12, 2019

An Oct. 4 story in the Prior Lake American (“’Not where we want to be’”) reported what Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools leaders failed to publicly report earlier, that student Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments grades continue to decline.

Based upon data from the article, the number of students who met math standards dropped from 77 out of 100 in 2017 to 69 out of 100 this year. That’s a decline of 10% in just 2 years. Similarly, the number of students who met reading standards dropped by over 8% in the same two years. This ought to be a wake-up call that deserves more than a yawn from the School Board.

The American also reported our district was last in math when compared to five other districts with similar size and demographics. In a district generally considered affluent, this kind of result ought to warrant a sense of urgency to find out how we got here. However, it’s difficult to be optimistic when the article left the impression that the superintendent has board support to continue to stay the course. With declining grade performance over three to four years as reported in state records, changing direction seems more appropriate.

Student performance doesn’t decline for three or four years without cause. Something is wrong, and it’s not the teachers. Is it possible that changes to curriculum, class-room environment or the addition of other priorities is the culprit? The board (not a consultant with vested interest) should objectively determine what’s wrong, but will they?

Recent years have brought increasing emphasis on introducing social ideology into classrooms nationwide, apparently to promote social change. While there is ongoing debate without consensus about whether these so-called progressive changes are positive or destructive, our school district nevertheless jumped on board.

I understand the importance of offering a welcoming and inclusive environment to students, but most of the teachers I know or have known do this very well on an individual basis. Overloading and burdening teachers with multiple initiatives driven by outside consultants who offer slogans and metaphors (like student equity, whatever that means) may be the distraction that’s driving student academic performance downhill.

By happenstance, I learned details of some of these initiatives. I was concerned to the extent that I addressed two of the initiatives in a June 5, 2018, email to the board. The first involved the fact that our district administered a mandatory student survey asking sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders about sexual behavior, gender identity, suicide and other personal information without knowledge or approval of parents. In my opinion, this clearly violates state and federal law and the public trust.

The second related to introduction of a socially ideological program labeled CLR (Culturally & Linguistically Responsive) that was introduced into our district by consultant Sharroky Hollie. Hollie had already gained some notoriety with a similar controversial program introduced into the Edina district. Our Board chair said trend data for the program shows progress but offered no specifics. Falling MCA grades is not a trend that validates progress.

In a July 14, 2018, column in this paper, I spelled out details about the school district survey, and in a follow-up Oct. 6, 2018, column (“Is this education or indoctrination?”), I detailed concerns about the CLR program. I hoped these would motivate our School Board to have an open and objective discussion, but to the best of my knowledge, my concerns never made it into a board meeting.

The board needs to be reminded that teachers, not consultants, motivate students to achieve their potential. Teachers should not be bogged down with multiple demands in support of promoting social change that distract them from teaching academics. Not all district teachers are happy with the Sharroky Hollie or so-called equity program, nor are all parents happy about district administrators probing into their children’s sensitive personal behavior. Parents and teachers uncomfortable with these classroom initiatives should be heard, but are their voices being muffled?

In my opinion, it’s time for the board to openly discuss whether it’s appropriate for the district to be exposing children to controversial ideological social issues that may conflict with family values in a student’s home or if that domain should be left to parents. It’s time for the board to recognize that falling grades might suggest district policies are getting in the way of permitting dedicated and talented teachers from doing their best work. Staying the course doesn’t sound like the right answer.

Please read more from the Prior Lake America: https://www.swnewsmedia.com/prior_lake_american/news/opinion/columnists/commentary-falling-test-scores-are-a-wake-up-call-for/article_79949d29-4362-5d8e-976a-f24d8c838cf2.html

Wes Mader is a former Prior Lake mayor. Following retirement after serving as president of Bowmar Aerospace and Defense in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Wes and his wife Char retired in Prior Lake.