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West Fargo Schools using innovative practices to keep up with learning skills

Teachers take a small group approach to learning history, languages in West Fargo

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WEST FARGO — West Fargo Schools continues to take an innovative approach to personalized learning for all its students, despite its fast-growing path to soon become the largest school district in the state of North Dakota.

One example of how teachers are customizing learning was shown by middle school leaders on Monday, Nov. 14. Liberty Middle School Principal Dan Holder and Nikki Weltin, the district's curriculum coordinator for grades six through 12, gave school board members an idea of how teachers are shaping the middle school social studies learning.

Teachers are able to embed a new requirement of Native American history, for example, into its seventh and eighth grade U.S. history classes. In 2021, North Dakota passed Senate Bill 2304, which required all elementary and secondary public and nonpublic schools in the state to include curriculum on Native American history.

To learn more about the topic, students connect what they learned about history to the present times. Students work on individual projects, and are able to see an interactive map that shows what Native American lands look like today.

"A lot of different opportunities for a lot of different students could be found here," Weltin said.

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Holder said allowing teachers to personalize their courses to further engage students has been paying off. Students are able to identify critical content from what they are learning and applying it.

It is working in more than just social studies classes, too. The district is seeing progress in its learning goals across topics and grades.

"They're doing the same teaching, but the art and the spin that the educators are putting on it is their own style," said Rachael Agre, assistant superintendent.

Similar programs are underway in elementary schools, where teachers have designed curriculum that allow for students to break off into smaller groups, which gives teachers a chance to work directly with their students.

West Fargo Public Schools is seeing its innovative policies pay off. In a report to the school board on Monday, Agre said the elementary schools are meeting most of its goals.

The district's 2021-22 state comparison data shows the district is exceeding state levels of learning and it's growing in comparison to national standards.

For example, the district is at 79% of critical thinking skills, or in other words, 79% of students are able to exhibit critical thinking skills. The baseline for such data is 80%.

"We are moving in the right direction, which makes me think a lot of changes we're making and the pushing of teachers out of their comfort zones, we're really making a difference for them," Agre said.

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The state and national data also shows that females are doing better than males in most areas and economically disadvantaged students tend to lag behind others as well.

"It is a piece of data that we are really digging into," Agre said of the differences between sexes. "We are seeing our economically disadvantaged students not doing as well across the district."

Agre said that the district also found that students who have been in the district for three or more years tend to see improved learning scores.

While the data Agre presented was mostly positive for the district, it did fail to make reasonable progress in the district college readiness aspect, reaching only 41% of students. Last year 43% of students had met the college readiness bar.

A West Fargo high school teacher on Monday said the percentages don't tell the full story for students. Many may not do well on one test, but when asked to solve a problem for a teacher, they can clearly demonstrate the correct concepts.

The West Fargo School District routinely monitors progress of grade levels and schools throughout the school year through a variety of data studies.

READ MORE FROM WEST FARGO EDITOR WENDY REUER

Readers can reach West Fargo editor Wendy Reuer at wreuer@forumcomm.com or 701-241-5530 . Follow her on Twitter @ForumWendy .

Related Topics: WEST FARGO
As the West Fargo editor, Wendy Reuer covers all things West Fargo for The Forum and oversees the production of the weekly Pioneer.
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