Instead of taking a vacation some students are honing academic skills over spring break. 

Teacher Benjamin Kimmel and student Luis Lopez could have slept in this week instead of showing up at Andersen United school in Minneapolis for an 8 a.m. bell five days in a row.

Honing Academic Skills Over Spring Break

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Instead, they voluntarily took part in Spring Break Academy, the district’s attempt to help students catch up on skills before this year’s round of Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests. And both are glad they did.

Luis liked building a rocket from kits that Kimmel scored for his class. Kimmel had his class write thank-you notes to the donor, a chance to work on their language skills as well. “I like this class better because they do more fun stuff than regular school,” Luis said, also citing the study of animal habitats.

Kimmel, a science teacher, reveled in the chance to work with a class of only 14 students. “You actually have the time to work one on one,” he said.

Andersen is one of 13 Minneapolis schools where students this week spent mornings on academics, mostly reading and math, and afternoons on building other skills. Some also worked on getting familiar with the online MCA test format.

The Spring Break Academy is one of a grab bag of strategies the district is using to try to accelerate student improvement on standardized tests, a mandate the school board gave Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson last fall.

Honing Academic Skills Over Spring Break

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Other strategies have included additional literary and math coaching in the 13 schools, and Saturday classes at selected schools on topics ranging from math and reading catch-up for younger students to making up blown credits or prepping for International Baccalaureate tests for high school peers.

The district plans to assess the impact both by measuring the MCA scores for participants and by interviewing principals about results. It put money aside for continuing those strategies or others in the 2014-2015 school year, even though it doesn’t expect final assessment results until July.

Next school year’s options for trying to boost student skills could include classes over the two-week winter break, a period in which educators worry that some students backslide.

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