Willmar teachers, administrators review test data

WILLMAR -- Teachers and administrators in Willmar Public Schools began to lay the groundwork for the coming school year this week in a two-day data retreat.

Willmar Superintendent Jeff Holm
Willmar Superintendent Jeff Holm, center, discusses district-wide instructional goals at a data retreat Wednesday as others listen, from left, Heather Boniek, special ed instructional coach; Liz Fischer, human resources director; and Jenni Gunga, English Learner/Gifted Talented coordinator. The retreat was attended by administrators and teachers.

WILLMAR - Teachers and administrators in Willmar Public Schools began to lay the groundwork for the coming school year this week in a two-day data retreat.
The retreat Tuesday and Wednesday at Willmar Middle School was used to analyze state test results from the last school year. They looked for patterns and discussed goals for the coming year. School starts Sept. 8 in Willmar.
Director of Teaching and Learning Cheryl Nash led the retreat. Participants represented all the buildings in the district and included administrators, instructional coaches and teachers.
Groups from each building worked on analyzing the test data in a number of different ways. They looked at building-wide scores by grade level and broke the data down by ethnic groups, gender and income levels.
In many cases, test scores for white, black and Latino students increased last year, but achievement gaps have persisted. They narrowed in some cases but are still wider than the state Department of Education would like.
On Wednesday morning, the groups rotated from one building’s data to another, looking at the results with fresh eyes. Each school’s results area had a sheet of paper where the others could leave questions or comments.
Nash then asked each school to develop goals for the coming year, focusing on instruction and on strategies supported by evidence.
She reminded them that more than 90 percent of the district’s black students qualify for free and reduced-price meals, and about 88 percent of Latino students, too. Many of the district’s white students also qualify for meal assistance.
A strategy focusing on those low-income students would reach more kids than one that focused on one ethnic group, Nash said.
Achievement gaps exist between ethnic groups and between students who receive free meals and their more affluent classmates.
Nash said those at the retreat will be expected to share the information when teachers come back to work later this month.
The retreat “helps us look back and see how we did,” she said. “We’re digging into what we did and diagnosing if we did the right thing.”
The practice of shuffling the groups and having them discuss each other’s data helps accomplish another of her goals, Nash said.
“It’s good to mix them up,” she said. “It helps them realize we are all part of one big system.” Staff members in different buildings normally have limited contact during the school year, she added.
Cassie Akerson, a fourth-grade teacher at Kennedy Elementary, said she enjoys the retreats in part because they show the district as a team working toward a common goal of student achievement.
Akerson said she has attended the three data retreats that Nash has held and has appreciated the connections she’s made with people teaching other grade levels.
Tom Beyer, a math instructional coach for the elementary schools, said he was excited about improvements in math scores. He said there’s been a significant improvement in scores for every group. Scores have increased for female students and for low-income students.
“Hopefully, it’s going to continue,” Beyer said. “The teachers have done a great job.”
Beyer said the data retreat gives him a chance to answer questions and to explain the trends he and the other instructional coaches have seen.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: or phone 320-214-4340
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