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No standard achievement at Woodbury Middle School

Woodbury Middle School kicked off the year on a high note – literally.

Last month, WMS learned that its eighth grade students had earned the third highest average score, a score of 855.9, on the MCA III science test.

Woodbury’s own Math and Science Academy took the top spot with an average score of 856.6.

However, the big accomplishment, WMS science teacher Nick George said, was Team Firestorm – one of the eighth grade houses at WMS, which scored an average score of 862.2 on the standardized test.

“Team Firestorm earned by far the highest average score in Minnesota,” George said. “I mean, it wasn’t even close.”

The state average was 846.9.

The MCA III tests students in the areas of earth science, life science, physical science and history and nature of science.

Students took the test last spring.

“I was actually kind of mad that we didn’t get first,” said Woodbury High School freshman Robert Knox, who took the test last spring at WMS.

The ‘Keystone’ to success

The annual science test has been a big deal at WMS for the past several years since George spearheaded an effort to improve the school’s proficiency and average score on the test.

WMS earned the top proficiency score in the state in 2011.

In the past George organized a number of review and study opportunities, specifically the annual MCA Prep Fest review session.

However, this year George decided to switch things up and incorporate a few new study programs into the curriculum.

First George, along with his classroom “Science Senators,” worked to develop new learning activities and assignments to keep students engaged.

But the biggest addition to test preparation came in the form of Keystone Club, which was a new after-school science remediation program.

During the program, which targeted the most academically at-risk students, Keystone Club members met with Woodbury High School National Honor Society students every other week, for eight weeks, for three-hour tutoring sessions.

“We specifically targeted them to get them caught up in science, build confidence in their academic abilities and create a positive relationship with an upper classman from WHS,” George said.

A total of 20 NHS members worked with 40 WMS students.

“It sounded like a great opportunity to help out that way,” said WHS senior Samantha Strand, one of the NHS mentors.

“We were in their place,” WHS senior, and NHS mentor, Alex Drew said, “so we know that the test is a really big deal.”

An average tutoring session for Keystone Club typically started off with pizza and friendly socializing.

“By doing that they get to know you and kind of respect you so they actually listen to what you have to say,” Strand said. “It’s a little bit different coming from us than a teacher.”

“We’ve been there,” Drew said, “so they know that we have a clue to what we’re talking about.”

After socializing, the NHS mentors would then work with the Keystone Club students on the week’s designated subjects, which George would decide.

“It was a long day when we put it all together for them,” Drew said.

In addition to going over the material and completing worksheets, Keystone Club would also do hands-on activities such as labs.

“That was a good way of learning,” Strand said.

Additionally, the students took a tubing field trip one week to learn about speed.

“(George) brought all of the concepts of the MCA out into the real world,” Strand said.

Strand and Drew said last year’s eighth graders struggled the most with force and some of the more abstract science concepts.

“Anything that they couldn’t actually touch and feel and see were the harder subjects,” Drew said.

However, the biggest struggle for students, Drew said, was actually seeing the importance of the test.

“I think they didn’t care,” she said. “One student was an athlete, so it was always athlete over academics.”

Strand agrees.

“I think some of them were like, ‘I hate school, I hate learning,’” she said. “A lot of students pretend not to care about the MCA, but if you’re the one student who doesn’t pass, it can be a little disappointing.”

Knox, who was a member of Keystone Club, was one of those students.

“I wouldn’t say science is difficult, I just didn’t pay attention in seventh grade,” he said. “So, by the time I tried to get my act together in eighth grade, it was too late.”

Knox said participating in Keystone Club proved to be beneficial when it came time to take the test.

“It was very helpful,” he said. “On the day of the test, the questions were pretty hard, but the tutoring helped a lot.”

Strand and Drew said it was very rewarding to see students like Knox succeed in the end.

“It was great to be there for those kids and help them learn,” Strand said. “I think we made a lot of headway with them.”

“You could see that little light turn on and that was the most rewarding experience,” Drew said. “You could definitely see that they wanted to do well on the test at the end.”

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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