New Millennium Academy, a K-8 charter school in Minneapolis, is remarkable for a number of reasons. Its mission, “To build a better life for our students by creating an environment of high academic achievement while preserving Hmong Culture and literacy,” encapsulates the school’s unique focus (read more about the school here), but for a moment let’s examine New Millennium Academy’s vision: “To close the achievement gap and be recognized as one of the top ten charter schools in Minnesota.”
We hear the phrase “achievement gap” frequently, but too often it is used as though it is an abstract concept. New Millennium Academy (NMA) is actively closing the achievement gap, and they have the numbers and recognition to prove it.
The Minnesota Department of Education has a system of recognition for Title I schools actively closing the gap. Last year, New Millennium Academy was named a Celebration Eligible School, which are the 25 percent of schools directly below the Reward school cutoff (top 15% of Title I schools). Once named Celebration Eligible, Schools must then apply to become a Celebration school. Amy Erickson, Director of Teaching and Learning at NMA, explains the process:
We became celebration eligible because our testing numbers, the actual data numbers, showed that we had closed that achievement gap. So if the [state designated] goal group of students is here and ours are here and we make the same gains that they do…we don’t close the gap even if our scores went up. But if we make more gains than they do, then that’s what they consider closing the gap.”
The tricky part is being able to say, ‘Why did you gain on the achievement gap?’ So after naming them, the state asks Celebration Eligible schools to write sort of the explanation or rationale for why you made those gains—what did you change specifically, what did you target that allowed students to make those kinds of gains and prompted students to make those kinds of gains, etc. There are very few schools that were Celebration Eligible that actually become Celebration Schools.
Erickson further explains the incredible statistics of growth NMA’s teachers work towards. “Our teachers work toward a goal of 125% growth every year…For example, if a first grader from fall to spring had 100% growth, that’s exactly what we would expect a first grader to do. But we ask our teachers to go from 100 to 125% so that they’re gaining on that achievement gap.”
For the two years previous to being named a Celebration Eligible School, NMA had been a Focus School, which are on the lower end of achievement for Title I schools. According to the Minnesota Department of Education, “Essentially, Focus Schools are designated to attack the achievement gap head on.” So, as Erickson explains, “Some years we lost ground on the gap, and some years we had not.”
By employing a series of very specific teaching strategies for English Language Learners and very clearly outlining schoolwide expectations, New Millennium Academy has made incredible leaps in closing the achievement gap. One of the strategies is to integrate the use of visuals in everyday learning, especially the use of anchor charts and cutout manipulatives. The anchor charts serve as a cognitive reminder in any grade level or subject and are used to create consistency across classrooms (grade levels are taught in teams), another vital element for a language learning environment. NMA uses VariQuest Visual Learning Tools, specifically the Poster Maker 3600 and Cutout Maker, to fill these needs. For example, each third grade classroom has an identical main idea and details poster (created with the Poster Maker) displayed, which creates consistency for students and eliminates confusion when it comes to foundational concepts. Learn more about how New Millennium Academy uses their VariQuest tools in a case study of the school here.
When asked whether closing the gap was always a goal for the school, Kao Yang, IT Administer and part of the school’s founding group, replied, “Yes, and it will always be.”
Visit New Millennium Academy’s school website here.
Learn more about MN Department of Education’s grouping of Title I schools here.