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Some schools see big jump in test scores

Carlton County schools generally performed at or better than state averages in Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) testing in results released Aug. 7 for tests given to students in selected grades last spring.

On a statewide basis, scores in math and science declined across the entire grade spectrum, while reading scores rose slightly.

Six of the seven Carlton County school districts beat at least one of the state averages in math, reading and science, while two — Barnum and Esko — beat all three.

Esko's performance was especially impressive, beating the state average by 14 points or better in all three categories and improving scores among students district-wide in all three areas.

Cloquet's scored dipped slightly on a district-wide level, but the district still beat state averages in reading and math and came within rounding distance of doing so in science. The district's elementary schools continue to perform well and the district's American Indian students blew out the curve in comparison to statewide results.

"Generally, we are pleased with the effort put forth by our students doing the MCAs," Cloquet Schools Superintendent Ken Scarbrough said. "In secondary schools across the state we're seeing lower proficiency scores. Our secondary schools are closer to the state averages."

But it's the performance of Cloquet's American Indian students that is especially noteworthy.

"Our American Indian students far outscore American Indian students across the state, and they continue to perform extremely well compared to all Minnesota students," Scarbrough said. "As in the past our Indian Education parent committees, Indian Education staff, and other teachers continue to identify American Indian students who need academic help. Our students receiving this work hard and see very good improvement."

Two schools — Esko and Carlton — were the only Carlton County schools to show district-wide improvement in all three areas. Carlton's progress was especially dramatic, with performance in science up over 20 percent district-wide from last year.

"Continuous school improvement and increasing student achievement is extremely important to our school board, administration and staff," Carlton superintendent Gwen Carman said. "Increasing MCA scores is one part of this work. I am proud that our district-wide scores increased in 2017 and we will continue to focus on our academic goals this year. We have particularly strong science programs and I am pleased that our MCA scores reflect that in 2017."

Carman noted that the improvement in science, while very impressive, didn't necessarily reflect changes to the way students are educated.

"It's a little frustrating sometimes to have people ask if we're teaching science properly because of a test score," she said. "Still, we are happy that the scores went up and happier still that they went up in all three areas."

Cromwell-Wright showed the most dramatic single-category improvement on a district-wide basis, raising science competency scores by 23 percent over a year ago.

Meanwhile, Scarbrough realizes that more work needs to be done both to erase the "achievement gap" between Caucasian students and students of some other ethnicities as well as to raise scores in general.

"We continue to work to bring all students' scores to proficient status," he said. "For instance, we will continue to offer special math courses at the high school to raise proficiency for students who need that help. We are doing the same at the middle school and will be offering two more classes this year to help students who will not be in remedial math but need a boost to improve their proficiency. We are very proud of our students, their families, and our school staff members for the tremendous work they do and the growth we see with all our students."

Statistics aside, state officials were quick to note that there's more to educating a well-rounded student than simply taking a test.

"Test scores are just one part of the picture to understand how students are doing in Minnesota," Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said in a news release. "It's frustrating to see test scores slowly increasing over time, but there's more to providing a student with a well-rounded education than can be seen in a test."

Carman agreed.

"There are a lot of things to account for," she said, "and things our culture hasn't quite accepted yet. There are issues like supportive families, kids getting enough rest, technology access, all of these things can play a part. If a student is playing video games until 2 a.m., that's going to have an affect on education and test scores. We need to be sure we're doing all we can to put our students in positions to succeed."