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Windom School Taking Big Bite Out Of Achievement Gap

School helping students 'beat the odds,' says new report.

Despite overall test scores that hardly rise above the Minneapolis Public Schools' average, Windom Spanish Dual Immersion School is helping close the achievement gap between students of color and white students, according to the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

The rub with the test scores comes down to the school's design, reporter Sheila Reagan writes. Minnesota's elementary students are tested in third grade and fifth grade on their English and math skills, but Windom's students are taught acording to a dual-immersion model, which gradually introduces English into the classroom, from a 90/10 ratio of Spanish to English in first grade, to a 70/30 mix in third grade, and a 50/50 mix in fifth grade. Because Minnesota's statewide standardized tests are written in English, Reagan writes, Windom's students have a tougher time understanding the tests in third grade than they do in fifth grade, skewing the test results downward regardless of whether a student's primary language is English or Spanish.

Teachers and administrators the Planet interviewed defend Windom's structure.

“One of the foundations of dual immersion is that we believe the skill transfers over" the language boundary, said Assistant Principal Jim Clark, pointing to his fifth graders' test scores. 

In 2009, only 19 percent of fifth graders were proficient in math, the Planet reports. In 2012, that number had jumped to 61 percent, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Education, in a district where only 36 percent of fifth graders are proficient in the math curriculum. The entire school's reading skills have also jumped up, from 39 percent in 2009 to 58 percent in 2012 according to MDE data.

Part of the change likely is related to the larger numbers of white students Windom has drawn since 2009. White students typically outperform their non-white peers on state standardized tests. But the student body is still around 50 percent students of color, showing that more than simple math is at work. The Planet report credits the change to Principal Lucilla Yira and to the school's "small town" way of trying to look out for every student.

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