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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Rural Minn. school districts worry about snow days

  • Administrators are worried those closures will come back to haunt them as they prepare for high-stakes achievement tests this spring.
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  • Many rural Minnesota school districts were forced to cancel several days of classes because of the tough winter. Now administrators are worried those closures will come back to haunt them as they prepare for high-stakes achievement tests this spring.
    That's particularly the case in western Minnesota, where districts can cover hundreds of square miles. Blizzards and ice storms can make it dangerous for school buses to navigate country roads.
    "I've had more school-related closings and late starts (over the winter) than I've had in my whole previous career as a superintendent," Alexandria Superintendent Rick Lahn told Minnesota Public Radio for a story that aired Tuesday (http://bit.ly/10JuVyX ).
    Montevideo Superintendent Luther Heller said his teachers are behind in preparing students for the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests that will take place in April and May.
    "We're very fearful that this will have an impact on how we perform," Heller said. "That we will have some students that won't do as well as they would have had we gotten all of the (possible) instructional time in."
    Heller had to cancel some of the district's scheduled days off because of the snow days to give students more time to prepare.
    The Morris district pushed some testing set for May back by a week to give students and teachers time to catch up.
    "A week matters," Morris High School Principal Craig Peterson said. "Five more days of instruction matters."
    Older students need to pass the reading, writing and math portions of the tests to achieve their diplomas. The state also judges schools on how well students score.
    That's why the state gives schools flexibility to schedule many of their tests from March through May, said Charlene Briner, chief of staff at the Minnesota Department of Education.
    "We recognize there can be floods, there can be snow days, there can be outbreaks of illness," Briner said. "So we really want to offer districts an opportunity to schedule the testing to meet their needs."
    Some superintendents say starting school before Labor Day would also help in years like this. Minnesota requires schools to start after Labor Day, although 30 districts have waivers to start earlier. The issue has come up many times at the Legislature but failed amid opposition from the state's tourism industry.
    "Even if a district were to be able to start four, five, six days earlier and get more instructional time in prior to the MCAs — that flexibility would be helpful," Heller said.

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