The Hopkins Advantage: Academic Excellence and Real-World Preparation

The Hopkins Advantage: Academic Excellence and Real-World Preparation
Portrait photo of Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed

As a lifelong education leader, I vowed to enroll my own children in the public schools I would serve. I have done that. With my youngest now a sixth grader in Chinese Immersion at West Middle School, and my oldest a sophomore at Hopkins High School, I am so glad I made that choice. I am now indebted to all the fabulous teachers who have served my children well.

Over the course of their educational journeys, my children—like many of yours—have had the opportunity to sit in classrooms and be in schools with students who quite literally represent our global society. In addition to superior instructional quality, our Hopkins students are exposed to 70-plus languages, diverse expressions of identity and ideas, and multiple ways of engaging in rigorous learning and complex problem-solving. This is the Hopkins advantage.

In school districts, there is a trend for affluent or more resourced families to leave diverse school districts for ones with less diversity. Although this pattern has been present in Hopkins since the ‘90’s, it is now being disrupted. More families want diversity of all types and they want an excellent education. You can get both in Hopkins. This has led to higher than anticipated kindergarten enrollment over the past three years.

In the intricate landscape of public education, misunderstandings often arise regarding the role of test scores in evaluating diverse school districts like Hopkins. While educators recognize that school quality encompasses far more than a test score, parents often seek out test scores as indicators of academic rigor. And, we know that excelling in standardized tests like the ACT is crucial for college admission and college completion. At Hopkins, we prioritize preparing students for these assessments, reflected in our consistently strong ACT scores and our graduation rates that surpass state averages.

If we use the Minnesota MDE Report Card to compare average MCA scores of districts with similar demographics, Hopkins students do as well as, if not better than, similar counterparts. So, why do schools with diverse populations do less well on standardized tests than schools that are whiter and wealthier? Throughout our country, race and poverty are inextricably linked with communities of color disproportionately impacted by poverty. There is a long-proven relationship between poverty and proficiency. Simply put, students from middle-class and affluent families have generated test scores that are higher than those of students from families impacted by incomes below the poverty threshold.

The predictability of poverty’s impact on proficiency has been a feature of our nation's high-stakes test results for decades. For the record however, and to be clear, the flaw is not in our students. Our students’ talents, strengths, and learning potential should never be predetermined or prejudged by their zip code, family income, or race. Rather, it’s our assessment system that is not yet holistic or comprehensive enough. The limitations of standardized tests are such that they have never been able to precisely measure what each student knows or can achieve.

In Hopkins, various school features contribute to academic excellence for our students. These include strong elementary enrichment opportunities, as well as participation and success in high school programs like Advanced Placement, College in the Schools, career pathways, and Bilingual education. Our middle schools utilize the International Baccalaureate framework, a world renowned curriculum known for talent development. Elementary experiences in literacy, music, art, schoolwide enrichment, and social emotional learning build students' readiness for the academic rigor of middle and high school.

Our schools must also have the flexibility to adapt. Since 2017, the world has transformed significantly. Our methods for educating students and preparing them for future success must keep pace or risk becoming irrelevant. We’ve partnered with colleges and employers to understand what they are looking for in young people. This information informs how we evolve. Our teachers artfully blend direct instruction of new knowledge and skills with inquiry and exploration, so that students can apply their learning and solve real world problems. Schools that only use teacher directed instruction risk producing students who may struggle with engagement, creativity and critical thinking, and/or confidence and voice.

We need refined approaches to assess student learning and skill acquisition. That’s why the Minnesota Department of Education has finally launched a statewide testing redesign survey, open to staff, students and parents. Meanwhile, in Hopkins, we're developing a balanced assessment system to evaluate proficiency and growth. We understand that students' abilities go beyond test scores, and we aim to capture the full scope of their learning. Factors like teacher quality, school safety, and sense of belonging are challenging to quantify but essential for student success. To learn more, find our data dashboards on the Hopkins at a Glance webpage.

Educating our students for real-world success takes the entire Hopkins village. I am grateful to our teachers, staff, and families for the roles they play in this high-stakes work. If a strong education today is vital to solving tomorrow’s challenges, Hopkins has an undeniable head start. We invite you to tour our future-ready schools and witness firsthand the Hopkins advantage.