Becoming the ‘World’s Best Workforce’

By Vicki Ikeogu
Contributing Writer

Progress is being made toward ambitious goals the Columbia Heights School District has set to help students prepare to become part of the “World’s Best Workforce.”

Members of the school board heard a brief presentation of the annual “World’s Best Workforce” progress report prepared by Director of Teaching and Learning Zena Stenvik and Director of Communications Casey Mahon at the Tuesday, Sept. 26 school board meeting.

“This report is part of (a Minnesota state) statute,” Stenvik said. “So, it became law in 2013. And really, the law states that district strategic plans to support teaching and learning must be aligned with creating the world’s best workforce.”

The state statute has outlined five goal areas for districts across the state, including Columbia Heights, to work on to help prepare students for college and/or the workforce. Those goals are: all students must be ready for kindergarten; all students in third grade shall achieve grade level literacy; closing the achievement gap among all groups; all students shall attain college and career readiness before graduating from high school; and all students shall graduate from high school.

Stenvik said the district has developed goals and strategies unique to Columbia Heights to achieve the broad goals outlined by the state and the Minnesota Department of Education.

When it comes to kindergarten readiness, Stenvik said the district worked toward increasing participation in preschool by 10 percent. The data from the district showed that pre-K enrollment rose from 168 during the 2015-2016 school year to 224 during the 2016-2017 school year.

“We did meet that goal,” Stenvik said. “We increased by more than 10 percent.”

For the 2017-2018 school year, Stenvik said the district will be switching gears, instead focusing specifically on academic growth in pre-K children.

“Now we are really looking at the academic data,” Stenvik said. “So, there’s an assessment called the IGDI (Individual Growth & Development Indicators). IGDI is broken down into quartiles. So, what we are looking at in academic growth is for students to move up at least one quartile (in this skills and development assessment) if not more.”

Stenvik said the district has also met its goal to increase reading proficiency among third graders by 5 percent.

Using the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA) tests, Stenvik said reading proficiency among third graders rose from 27.7 percent during the 2015-2016 school year, to 34.6 percent during 2016-2017. She hopes to increase the proficiency rating by another 5 percent this school year.

“We’d love to increase each year by leaps and bounds,” Stenvik said. “However, we know that with incremental change, we’ll be able to get to our ultimate goal.”
The other three goals outlined have been met with mixed results.

Stenvik said the district had hoped to close the achievement gap by about 10 percent during the 2016-2017 academic year. To measure this, the district used MCA reading scores from third through 11th grade.

“(In) this one we pretty much plateaued,” Stenvik said. “We have very high goals and we’re very focused on this area.”

The 2015-2016 reading proficiency achievement gap was 19.7 percent between white and non-white students. Last school year, that gap increased slightly to 20 percent.

“We are wanting to make sure all our students have access to rigorous coursework, access to high level standards,” Stenvik said. “But similar to the rest of Minnesota and most places in the nation, we saw a plateau. But that does not mean that we are easing up on our goal (for the current school year).”

To evaluate improvements in college and career readiness, Stenvik said the district has chosen to look at MCA reading proficiency scores in both third and 10th grade along with MCA math proficiency scores of 11th graders.

Columbia Heights had set a goal to increase these benchmark scores by 10 percent overall.

Stenvik said while reading scores among the third and 10th graders saw a year-over-year increase, math scores among juniors decreased. Stenvik did not state if the increases by the third and 10th graders met the 10-percentage point increase the district was hoping for.

“We’ve done some dissecting on where we’re at and what needs to happen (to improve),” Stenvik said. “We’re addressing these issues.”

Lastly, the Columbia Heights School District sought to bring the high school graduation rate up to 90 percent.

Stenvik said the 2017 graduation rate data will not be available until December. But according to the 2016 graduation rate data, Columbia Heights was 6.4 percent below the 90 percent goal they had established.

“For the past two years (our graduation rate) has been higher than the Minnesota state average,” Stenvik said. “Even though we are higher than the state, we still have very high goals and expectations. And we are still shooting for that 90 percent.”

Stenvik said the district is implementing a variety of strategies to help Columbia Heights continue its mission to meet the standards set out by the “World’s Best Workforce” legislation. Those strategies include a continued focus on literacy improvement, credit recovery programs, Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID) programs and the revitalization of the ENCORE program.

In addition, the district has adopted two unique standards to help set Columbia Heights students apart: Providing student access to personalized learning through technology integration and instruction and promotion of social and emotional learning.

The 2016-2017 “World’s Best Workforce” annual report will be brought before the school board for approval at the Oct. 10 meeting.

Community members will receive additional information on the goals and strategies pertaining to the “World’s Best Workforce” initiative in the mail within the coming weeks.