In recent years, the statewide results for the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) in math have shown a steady decline in overall student proficiency, worrying state administrators and teachers. So, when Principal Lisa Hansen received the 2017 results for Bert Raney Elementary School, she was excited to learn that not only had her students improved from previous years, but they were now outperforming the statewide average for the first time in decades.

In 2012, 65.4% of all Minnesota students were deemed proficient in the math portion of the MCA. In the same year, 51.9% of YME students were deemed proficient -- a double digit shortfall. Over the next five years, the state average steadily declined by about around 1% each year, eventually dropping to 58.6% in 2017.

During that same period, YME test scores steadily improved (though, not without some setbacks). In 2015, students were 55.6% proficient, however, they dipped the following year to 53.6% before jumping to 65.7% proficiency in 2017. Principal Hansen says the exciting results are a well deserved pay-off for the hard work of students, teachers, and staff.

Although the MCA is no longer utilized to allocate federal funding (which was the original purpose of the test under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001), they are still used by schools to measure academic performance. Additionally, YME utilizes their own standardized test, the Star Assessment, to measure student proficiency that aligns with Minnesota state standards. The test is given three times per year.

These standards are compiled into SMART Goals (smart, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) by Bert Raney. According to Principal Hansen, the goals are a way for the school to identify specific opportunities for additional academic growth.

There have also been recent improvements to the school math curriculum. The changes stemmed from conversations teachers had with each other over what worked and what didn’t in their classrooms. The lengthy process also saw a revamp in the textbooks and teaching material used by the school. The new curriculum emphasizes greater continuity between grades and more rigorous achievement benchmarks.

To help students struggling in particular areas, the school has implemented new common academic times for math and reading. According to Hansen, breaking students down into smaller groups helps equalize academic levels and facilitate instruction. “It’s important to teach kids where they’re at,” said Hansen. She adds that the small groups help improve the self-confidence of students. YME also relies on an extensive network of paraprofessionals to provide in-class support for students with special needs.

Bert Raney has also made significant strides in integrating more technology into the classroom. Most rooms now have Smart Boards (interactive touch whiteboards) which teachers use to present material and engage students in problem solving. The school is also experimenting with computer tablets. Hansen says that teachers have taken the initiative in implementing the new technology, which has helped bolster test scores. “In house, we have many technology experts learning from each other and sharing their knowledge with other teachers,” Hansen explained.

Although there are many factors that contributed to the recent progress, Hansen says that none of it would have been possible without the community support. “The amount of support that we get is so overwhelming,” she said. Hansen highlighted the many clothing donations the school receives from faith groups as just one example.

Hansen says that Bert Raney will continue working with students to improve test scores and identify other areas for progress. She is excited to build off the progress already made and says that staff are continuing to develop new strategies and practices for improving academic achievement across all areas and demographics.