Testimony of Eric Celeste to the Integration Revenue Replacement Advisory Task Force, 1/10/12

Dear members of the task force,

Soon after moving to Minnesota my wife and I discovered the East Metro Integration District. Both our children have attended EMID schools ever since. One is now a college sophomore, the other is in ninth grade at Crosswinds. I have been attending all your meetings and am eager to see the result of your deliberations. Please know that I and other parents care deeply about the work you are doing and believe you have the interests of our children at heart.

The EMID magnet schools are wonderful, but you know that. What you may not know is the degree to which the true innovations of a setting like EMID’s are compromised by the very drive toward standardized testing that lie at the foundation of the focus on the achievement gap. This discussion addresses your third question: historically, what worked and what didn’t work. The statewide testing model fails to accurately measure innovative programs like EMID and does not reflect the growth of students in our program.

EMID runs on a year-round schedule that avoids the regression typical of summers off. Instead, EMID places three week breaks between each quarter. Our kids are never away from school for long, and even during each break (except August) the schools offer “bridge” programs to keep students engaged. However, these breaks throughout the year mean that when the statewide testing window rolls around, our kids have had six weeks fewer educational contact days than other kids. The inflexibility of the testing calendar has forced the district to cut Fall and Winter breaks to only two weeks, eliminate much of the looping multi-age dynamic in our schools, and led to the impression that our schools are worse than others simply because our scores are a bit lower than others. I don’t expect you to resolve this problem, but I do want you to be aware that the data you see does a particularly poor job of reflecting the effectiveness of innovative programs.

Achievement gap data based on these tests often do little to illuminate how individual children learn and grow in a school. Our middle years school, Crosswinds, for example, gets an influx of new students in seventh grade who perform far below their classmates who have been in EMID schools since kindergarten. While our school prides itself on the significant progress these kids make from grade to grade as they move through our program, the achievement gap numbers are based on tests that don’t show this progress because they focus on snapshots of grades, not progress of individuals. Our data is flawed, and our sense of what works is flawed as well.

Integration is about more than simple diversity. Integration is about more than pumping up achievement gap numbers. Integration at the EMID schools does help all students achieve excellence, but it also teaches them to celebrate one another. To enjoy each others company at lunch, during after school activities, and during our bridge programs. The respect our students show for one another as they build a comprehensive, year round learning environment results in skills that our students carry into the world, to college and to the workspace, skills that our multicultural society desperately needs.

My hope and the hope of many EMID families who could not be here today is that you find a way to continue funding the kind of innovative, truly integrated environment that our magnet schools represent. We know it has been working for a decade now. We need your help to provide a similar exciting opportunity to east metro families in the decade to come.