“I have been clear on this. I will continue to be clear on this. What we’re seeing in terms of discrepancy gaps, literacy scores, math scores, those are unacceptable,” said Senior Academic Officer Aimee Fearing during the presentation on mid-year academic assessments at the May 24 Minneapolis Public Schools board meeting. “In no way … do I want anyone to walk away thinking anyone sitting up here at this table, or even in our senior leadership group, is ok with what we saw tonight.” 

Just prior, Executive Director of Research, Evaluation, Assessment and Accountability, Sarah Hunter, had presented an overview of the mid-year assessment data showing generally flat or low growth in student assessments in literacy and math across K-8 students in the district.

In addition, the data showed that there remain significant gaps in proficiency between demographic groups, with white students typically showing higher rates of proficiency than Black, Asian, Latinx or American Indian students. 

Fearing and Deputy Senior Academic Officer Maria Rollinger spent the bulk of the presentation detailing what the district is doing to address both the low proficiency rates, particularly in literacy, as well as the gaps in proficiency between student demographic groups. 

Their presentation included staff members from four elementary schools: Nellie Stone Johnson, Jenny Lind, Bryn Mawr, and Pillsbury. Staff shared their experiences with two new literacy programs, PRESS and the Groves Literacy Partnership, which are part of the district’s plan to address the low proficiency rates in reading.

The district uses a model called Multi-Tiered Systems of Support to monitor students' outcomes, identify students who need additional support or interventions, and to track the impact of interventions. This model is a data-driven approach to continuous improvement for schools. 

Within this framework, students receive support in tiers. In the context of academics, tier 1 is the regular classroom instruction that all students receive, sometimes also referred to as “core instruction.”

Tier 2 is typically small-group instructional support, which may happen with the classroom teacher or may include additional school staff, like a reading specialist. 

Tier 3 intervention is one-on-one support from specialized staff. Generally, no more that 20% of students should require Tier 2 or Tier 3 intervention. But, as Fearing said in the May 3 finance committee meeting, it isn’t uncommon in MPS classrooms to have a significantly higher percentage of students needing Tier 2 or 3 interventions. This indicates a need to change the Tier 1 instruction to meet student needs.

“Core instruction has to be strong and robust,” said Rollinger. To address core literacy instruction for elementary students, MPS has started to align instructional practices with the science of reading.

The Groves Literacy Partnership is an example of a change to tier 1 instruction to meet student needs. It also includes tier 2 and tier 3 interventions. Currently, this program is in six elementary schools: Barton, Bethune, Burroughs, Jenny Ling, Northrop, and Nellie Stone Johnson. The program is based on a method of teaching reading that is explicit and structured, which is in contrast to “balanced literacy,” the method used by the district’s elementary literacy curriculum, Benchmark Advanced. 

To participate in the Groves program, 90% or more of the staff at a school must vote to participate, so some schools in the district have chosen not to participate. Staff meet weekly with a Groves literacy coach and engage in professional development. As Kelly Wright, principal at Nellie Stone Johnson, said, “Groves is a heavy lift. The teachers were pretty tired with all of the training and college courses required.” 

Wright said that for next year she has a new plan in place so that staff will be able to do more of this work during the regular school day to lessen the burden.

Pao Vue, principal at Jenny Lind, said, “The largest impact for our school with this partnership is that we now have second and third graders who are reading now more than ever. We now have a systematic approach to explicitly teaching phonics … something that… has been lacking in many reading curricula that exist.”

Fearing and Rollinger said that the district is working now to determine whether and where the Groves partnership might be expanded to other schools in the future.

“[Groves training] is not a requirement for teachers. How do we get others excited … if this is working, so that we can get more teachers trained?” Director Adriana Cerrillo asked during the meeting. “How do we get them to support [this]?”

There was no answer given in the meeting.

The district also began professional development and implementation of Path to Reading Excellence in School Sites, PRESS, in partnership with the University of Minnesota. All MPS Title 1 schools had PRESS professional development training at the start of the 2021-2022 academic year. This training will be expanded to all elementary schools for the 2022-2023 school year. PRESS is a framework for implementing tier 2 and tier 3 literacy interventions for students.

The Multi-Tiered Systems of Support leader at Bryn Mawr, Megan Troyer, said, “The biggest impact of PRESS at Bryn Mawr has been the ability to ensure the effectiveness of our interventions across the tiers by correctly targeting them to where each child is, in their reading skill development.” Troyer said that with all the disruptions this year, PRESS has helped staff quickly identify what interventions students need. 

“We see with our progress monitoring data that students are making robust growth with these interventions,” Troyer said. She added, “We’ve seen many students reach grade level targets and exit out of interventions. We’re no longer seeing students languish in intervention programs for years.”

In addition to the PRESS professional development, the district will have a cohort of teachers who will undergo Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling professional development starting in August. The training is for teachers that are aligned with the science of reading. This past year, 89 district teachers participated in the training as part of a grant program through the State of Minnesota. All elementary administrators will undergo the training in August, as well as some early childhood education administrators and staff.

During the May 24 meeting, Hunter said the district was evaluating the impact of the elementary literacy professional development that teachers participated in this year. When the evaluation is completed over the summer, Hunter said they would come back to the board to share the results. The evaluation includes classroom observations and looking at data from student assessments to see if the professional development impacted student learning. 

Rollinger shared that the district will be conducting an audit next year of the current K-5 elementary literacy curriculum, called Benchmark Advance, to determine whether it aligns with the science of reading. Based on the findings of this audit, the district may begin the search for a new elementary literacy curriculum.

While the bulk of the presentation focused on elementary literacy instruction and outcomes, Rollinger shared that the district is also working with middle schools to address the literacy needs of students.

Currently only 50% of middle school students are reading at grade level. To address this, the district provided the PRESS professional development to all middle schools in the 2021-2022 school year. In the 2022-23 school year, Rollinger said each middle school will have a full-time reading teacher who will work with students to “close or address gaps that they may have in reading.”

Fearing gave a short update on elementary math proficiency, noting that proficiency rates have shown a decline across all grade levels. To address this, the district will continue to offer OGAP professional development. 

The district is in the process of selecting a new elementary math curriculum. The current curriculum was selected in 2007. This year multiple schools piloted different curricula. In the coming school year, a subset of elementary schools will “field test” a single curriculum, with the hope that this is the curriculum that will be selected and implemented in the 2023-24 school year. 

The board will meet again June 14 at 5:30 p.m. for a Regular Business Meeting. This meeting will include public comments, and the board is expected to take a vote on the budget resolution for the 2022-23 school year at this meeting.