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Massive improvement in test scores at Kennedy Elementary School

WILLMAR — The hard work of the last year has paid off for Willmar Public Schools’ Kennedy Elementary School.

A year ago, Kennedy was considered to be among the 5 percent lowest-performing schools in the state.

But what a difference the school and its students have made in the past year.

Kennedy’s Multiple Measurement Ranking System score increased dramatically over the past year. Kennedy earned 9.39 percent, 7 points out of a possible 75, in last year’s reports. This year, the school’s score is 50.62 percent, 38 points out of a possible 75.

Cheryl Nash, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, said the turnaround in the school was amazing, and it came with a lot of hard work.

“They’re rocking, I tell you,” she said.

Though test results were released to the public this morning, school officials were able to see their results before the public release. Nash shared them with the Tribune on the condition they be held until today.

Willmar Senior High’s scores increased, too, from 20.77 in 2012 to 61.28 in 2013 on a scale of 100 possible points.

The news isn’t as rosy at Roosevelt Elementary and Willmar Middle School. Overall Multiple Measurement Ranking scores fell at those two schools.

The ranking system is a new measure of school accountability that was introduced a year ago. The Multiple Measurement Ranking System looks at more than student proficiency on standardized tests. It also takes into account student growth, achievement gap and graduation rates.

The state’s goal is to cut the achievement gap in half in the next six years. Minnesota is recognized as having one of the widest achievement gaps in the nation.

Gaps persist at all of Willmar’s schools and at all ages, though the achievement gaps were reduced in some cases.

In last year’s rankings, Kennedy was named a Priority School. That meant it was listed among the 5 percent of persistently low-performing schools on all measurements.

Roosevelt was listed as a Focus School, placing it among the 10 percent of schools making the largest contribution to the achievement gap.

Roosevelt’s scores fell from 47.48 percent, 35 points of a possible 75, a year ago to 30.2 percent, 23 points of a possible 75, this fall.

The scores showed no achievement gap reduction or enough student growth in math, Nash said. The school’s students did meet their proficiency targets in reading.

The Middle School last year had 40.62 percent, 30 points out of a possible 75. This year, the score was 34.89 percent, 26 points of a possible 75.

As she looked at the Middle School scores, Nash said, “You can really draw a conclusion that math is the problem in the Middle School.” Only white students hit state targets in math, but nearly all groups of students were considered proficient in reading.

The achievement gap did not close in reading or math at that school, she said.

At the Senior High, a graduation rate of nearly 100 percent contributed to the increase in scores. All proficiency targets were met on reading, and the school saw growth in its students’ math scores, Nash said.

The Senior High also reduced its achievement gap in math.

“I’m really happy for Kennedy,” Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said Monday. He praised Nash, Kennedy Principal Todd Goggleye and the staff for their hard work in the past year.

Nash said the changes at Kennedy are gratifying, given the effort that went into changing the school’s structure last year.

Goggleye said he was excited about the gains made by the school’s students. “It was a collective effort among the staff,” he said. “We’ve still got work to do and will keep striving forward.”

Because Kennedy was in the Priority School category, it was able to receive a federal School Improvement Grant. Roosevelt was not eligible.

Kennedy also had a new principal with experience implementing a turnaround plan.

The grant contributed to a sense of urgency at Kennedy, Nash said.

The Minnesota Department of Education worked more with Kennedy and other priority schools, too.

“(The state) told us if we were doing it like that before, we had to change it,” said Carrie Thomas, a continuous improvement specialist at Kennedy.

Nash said the rising scores are a good indication that Kennedy is on the right track with its interventions, schedule adjustments and other changes.

This year, Roosevelt will most likely undertake more of the changes made at Kennedy last year, Nash said. The school also has a new principal this year.

“My hope is we’re going to take a real hard look at how those two buildings function,” Kjergaard said.

The success at Kennedy “is a strong indicator that we need to do all the same stuff” at Roosevelt, he said.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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