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State test results mixed for Carlton County

Carlton County schools offered mixed performances on recent Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) standardized tests given to students this spring.

Tests in reading, math and science were given to students across the grade spectrum, with statewide reading and science scores slightly rising in all grades, while scores in math fell slightly.

In Carlton County, two school districts — Esko and Barnum — beat the state average proficiency scores in all three categories. Cloquet and Moose Lake exceeded standards in two of the three categories while Cromwell-Wright, Carlton and Wrenshall students didn’t exceed state averages in any of the three categories.

In Esko, whose students topped Carlton County scores in all three categories, Superintendent Aaron Fischer was naturally pleased with his district’s results.

“We are very happy,” he said. “These results were excellent. Our schools have a long tradition of excellence and we have built on that in recent years. We have very supportive families and a great staff, which is a key ingredient in all of this.

“We are working collaboratively across the county,” Fischer added. “We are trying to expand these kinds of programs and coordinate outcomes for our students.”

In Cloquet, science scores slipped slightly below the state average, keeping the district from bettering the state in all three categories.

“We run an outstanding science program,” Superintendent Ken Scarbrough said. “We’re evaluating the results but right now we are looking for areas of potential improvement in that area.”

But for Scarbrough, the results were otherwise good given the challenges the district faces.

“Our elementary schools were outstanding,” he said, “between seven and 16 points above average in the three areas, but our high school numbers were down a little bit. Given that about 45 percent of our students are on free or reduced-cost lunch, we have some issues with economics that provide challenges. But our Native American population, especially at the high school level, did exceptionally well compared to state averages.”

Economic challenges were noted by the state’s Education Commissioner, Brenda Casselius, in noting that the ‘achievement gap’ between Caucasian students and other ethnic groups has not narrowed since 2013. Casselius called for societal spending and emphasis on living wages and health care as means to keep students in school.

These are issues that don’t affect Esko as much as the Twin Cities, for example, but have a modest effect on districts such as Cloquet, with higher percentages of students receiving free or reduced-cost lunches.

“The challenges for the particular districts can vary greatly,” Fischer said. “Duluth takes in more (state money) per student than Esko because of free and reduced lunch and more programming needs, but it’s nicer to look deeper. You have to look at the whole picture in a school and in a community. We don’t have a great deal of difference in demographics. Some (districts) deal with very challenging issues and do extremely well.”

Cloquet is one of those districts.

“We have some of those issues — not as large as Minneapolis and St. Paul, but we do have them,” Scarbrough said. “We have the most achievement gap work to do in the American Indian community but the families are very supportive, we have academic and social supports in place for our kids and are working hard to see where we can improve.

“I do happen to think that economics is a greater determining factor than race (in student performance).

It’s important to note as well that the MCA is only one test, with the statewide Multiple Measurement Results (MMR) due for release later this year for another look at educational performance. Also, more than 3,600 Minnesota students received parental ‘opt out’ permission in the MCA’s reading and math tests, and the numbers do not count student refusals to take the exams, which will be counted starting next year.

Opt-outs aren’t a significant problem across Carlton County, but they do affect statewide averages.

Meanwhile, local schools will continue to incorporate state standards into their curricula.

“We are intentional about what we’re teaching,” Fischer said. “We have ‘Esko standards’ too — since we have performed better than state averages in certain areas for many years — benchmarks that we incorporate into the curriculum.”

“I think we’re making a lot of progress, even though our science scores slipped a little,” Scarbrough said. “We need to keep looking at those (standards) and see if there are better ways to achieve in those areas. I have full confidence in our principals and teachers to do what needs to be done.”

Reading

District Score (State Average 59.9)

Esko

78.6

Barnum

67.8

Cloquet

64.4

Moose Lake

58.2

Cromwell-Wright

57.3

Carlton

54.2

Wrenshall

50.6

    

Math

District Score (State Average 59.5)

Esko

78.7

Cloquet

64.3

Moose Lake

62.6

Barnum

62

Cromwell-Wright

59.3

Carlton

52.8

Wrenshall

52.7

    

Science

District Score (State Average 55.0)

Esko

65.5

Barnum

65.4

Moose Lake

57.7

Cloquet

53.9

Wrenshall

43.1

Carlton

38.6

Cromwell-Wright

36.9

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