Phoenix Middle School outpacing nation in reading, math achievement growth

Phoenix Middle School

DELAVAN — The learning by Phoenix Middle School students has accelerated faster than their peers nationwide in both reading and math, data from 2015-16 national Measure of Academic Progress tests shows.

The school’s 141 eighth graders have made especially good progress with their reading and math improvement, bettering between 97 to 99 percent of the country in growth and reaching national averages on achievement scores, the data shows. This is tremendous news for a school that continues to show improvements.

Principal Hank Schmelz

Principal Hank Schmelz

“It really shows that something special is happening here at Phoenix,” said Principal Hank Schmelz. “We’re really working together to close the gap. That’s something that I don’t know that everyone in Delavan knows. Not only are we doing well, but we’re also accelerating student growth. That’s the upward trajectory that we’re on.”

Schmelz reported the scores to the Delavan-Darien Board of Education Monday, May 9.

“The instructional strategies used in our Phoenix Middle School classrooms are top-notch and they are being delivered by some excellent teachers,” said Superintendent Robert Crist, Ed.D. “I am proud of the work Mr. Schmelz and all the Phoenix staff have done to close the achievement gaps and improve the academic success of our middle school students. It is a tremendous accomplishment that our community should know about and celebrate with us.”

Robert Crist, Ed.D.

Superintendent Robert Crist, Ed.D.

Measure of Academic Progress or MAP tests are taken twice per year, in the fall at the beginning of school and again in spring. It is a test taken by students across the country.

The fall test sets a baseline that shows students’ ability levels in the two core subjects. The spring scores are compared against the fall results to measure progress. The rates of growth in the reading and math by Phoenix sixth, seventh and eighth graders were impressive, Schmelz said.

In comparing growth scores, Phoenix out-paced the nation in all grades and in Caucasian and Hispanic demographic groups, with results in the top 25% in nine out of 12 measured areas (see chart below).

A growth score of zero shows that students have progressed one full year, which is the expectation for test-takers. Anything above a zero shows positive growth beyond one year.

Collectively, Phoenix’s students received positive marks, with some sub-groups totaling has high as 2.6, which shows outstanding growth from fall to spring. Also, eighth grade reading and math achievement scores from the spring tests at least equaled the national averages the last two years.

“It’s two years in a row that we’ve been seeing that kind of growth,” Schmelz said. “That indicates this is more than just a one-time-deal. We’ve now had two years, back-to-back, where we’ve really made some impressive gains. We anticipate we’re going to continue (improving).”

Schmelz attributes the growth to having a dedicated staff that is focused on literacy. Reading and comprehension are essential for success in all subject areas and at all grade levels.

“It really comes down to our tight focus on literacy,” Schmelz said. “At Phoenix, we believe all teachers are reading teachers, regardless of subject. Literacy (instruction) in all content areas has been a strong focus. Across the grades and across the curriculum and in all content areas, we use the same literacy strategies.”

By keeping the instructional strategies consistent across all teachers and grade levels, students are able to better understand them and the concepts being taught because they are familiar with them.

“The more exposure students have to them, the better the kids get at them, and that’s showing up in our results,” Schmelz said.

The staff celebrated the accomplishment with Comet-colored cupcakes at a recent staff meeting, but they desire a bigger prize, and it’s not upgrading to a full-sized cake. Success breeds success, and the staff want more of that, Schmelz said.

“We’re excited about where this might go,” Schmelz said. “We want to continue and not be status quo. Our next goal is, ‘What can we do to exceed the national averages?’”

Reading School Growth Index Growth Percentile Math


School Growth Index Growth Percentile
8th Grade     8th Grade    
Caucasian 2.0 97 (top 3% nationally) Caucasian 2.6 99 (top 1% nationally)
Hispanic 2.6 99 (top 1% nationally) Hispanic 2.3 99 (top 1% nationally)
7th Grade     7th Grade    
Caucasian 1.0 83 (top 17% nationally) Caucasian 0.1 56 (top 44% nationally)
Hispanic 1.8 96 (top 4% nationally) Hispanic 0.5 70 (top 30%) nationally
6th Grade     6th Grade    
Caucasian 0.6 72 (top 28% nationally) Caucasian 1.1 86 (top 14% nationally)
Hispanic 0.7 76 (top 24% nationally) Hispanic 1.5 93 (top 7% nationally)

(*NOTE: in the School Growth Index, a score of 0 shows one-year of academic growth, which is the expectation. Any positive number above a 0 shows above-expected growth.)

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