After a recent interview with Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen discussing the recent state tests in English Language Arts and Math in which Montana students scored poorly, we reached out to Dr. Molly Blakely, the new Superintendent at Hellgate Elementary School for its scores on the standardized tests.

Dr. Blakely first described her extensive background in education and how she became the new Hellgate Elementary Superintendent.

“Seven years ago I started out here at Hellgate Elementary as the Curriculum Director, and then last year served in the capacity of the Assistant Superintendent. I threw my name in the hat and they whittled it down to four finalists and then I was fortunate enough to get the job and I started July 1st.”

Dr. Blakely said starting the new school year without COVID protocols was highly anticipated by parents and students alike.

“We had our open house a couple of nights before the first day of school,” she said. “I felt like it was a rock concert. I mean, the doors were supposed to open at 5:30 p.m. At 10 to five people were coming in droves, and I think it was because it was the first time in two years that parents were actually allowed on campus and in their classrooms, so by meeting the teachers the people were just so genuinely thrilled.”

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Dr. Blakely was proud to contrast the standardized test scores at Hellgate Elementary compared to those for the rest of the state.

“In math, scores showed that less than 30 percent of the kids were proficient and we had 49 percent proficient,” she said. “In seventh grade, the state had 35 percent of their students as proficient, we had 54 percent, so we were above the state average in all but one grade level. And then our ELA (English and Language Arts) scores were incredible. The state average in sixth grade was 46 percent proficient. We were at 62 percent.”

Dr. Blakely said the school receives hundreds of requests to attend, but explained that according to state law each child must attend the elementary school in their own district.

“They have to go to their neighborhood school,” she said. “So in order to go to school here, you have to prove that you live within the boundaries of Hellgate Elementary. And a lot of that is that we just physically don't have the room to be an open district. If we were struggling with enrollment, we would probably say we're going to open our doors but we already have about 1,500 students.”

After 22 years, former Hellgate Elementary Superintendent Doug Reisig was the longest-serving superintendent in Montana public school history.

We also spoke to Valley Christian School Administrator Healey Glessner about the academic testing programs at this private Christian school and she provided details. 

“We test through the Iowa CogAT program,” said Glessner. “ACSI, which is the Association of Christian Schools International also does the testing through that. The Iowa program is a standardized test used across the country for our kindergarten through ninth-grade students. We also do the PSAT 10 with our 10th graders and we do the ACT with our juniors and our seniors. We encourage them to go and take the SATs when they're offered in the area.” 

Glessner provided more testing information. 

“For third through eighth-grade students in math, we had our national percentile range or the NPR of 78.5,” she said. “So 78.5 percent of our students scored in that range, and then a ‘stanine’ of seven, which means the majority of our students were performing at above average levels. For English, our national percentile range was 79. And our stanine was again seven. So again, they're performing at above average range.” 

In addition, Glessner said Valley Christian has some advantages over public schools. 

“We have small class sizes,” she said. “We strive for that. We have a lot of one on one personal attention. Our curriculum? We strive to make it strong. COVID hit so many people very hard. I know when we were all forced to go to online programs, and everybody learned how to do ZOOM that year. But for us, as soon as we could get back to ‘in seats’, which we were able to do the following year, bringing the kids back having them ‘in seats’ as much as possible, and we did that.” 

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