Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Mixed test results for area schools

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REGIONAL— Area schools saw mixed results on statewide tests this past spring, according to scores released this week by the state Department of Education. While every school saw changes, few schools can point to a trend of consistent improvement in student proficiency, which tends to rise and fall from year-to-year.

Statewide, math scores decreased slightly overall, and reading scores remained largely the same. 

That trend held true at most schools closer to home. At the elementary level, students in Ely, Tower-Soudan, North Woods, and Babbitt held mostly steady, while students at Nett Lake posted strong gains.

Nett Lake students saw their test scores jump sharply after a dip in 2016, from 44.4 percent proficiency in reading and 37.8 percent proficiency in math last year to 67.7 percent and 64.5 percent proficiency respectively this year.

While elementary students in Ely and Tower-Soudan did not post significant gains, they achieved impressive marks, with achievement levels well above the statewide average. Meanwhile, North Woods elementary students achieved slightly above the statewide average. Students at the Babbitt Elementary performed significantly below statewide averages in both reading and math.

It was a similar story at the secondary level, where most schools saw little change in test scores. One local exception was Vermilion Country School, the Tower-based charter school that opened in 2013, where students notched a fourth straight year of significant improvement in reading and further gains in math scores. In the school’s first year, the incoming class of students demonstrated just 13.8 percent proficiency in reading and zero percent in math, both far below the statewide average. Four years later, reading proficiency at the school hit 52.6 percent, very close to the statewide average and better than some other secondary schools in the region. “We’ve put a lot of emphasis on reading and it’s paid off for our students, and not just with test scores,” said VCS Board Chair Jodi Summit.

Meanwhile, 20 percent of students at the school showed math proficiency, a sign of improvement but still significantly below the statewide average. Summit said the school received a significant state grant to hire additional teachers to boost math achievement using research-based methods.

North Woods was another secondary school with gains in both reading and math, albeit modest ones. Students’ reading proficiency improved to 58 percent, while math proficiency improved to 30 percent.

Meanwhile, Northeast Range saw a slight rise in reading scores, with 43.4 percent of students showing proficiency, while math proficiency dipped to 19.2 percent.

Districtwide, students in ISD 2142 demonstrated some gains overall. “There is still room for improvement, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Superintendent Steve Sallee. “We are planning opportunities for staff to continue to receive training and staff development to ensure that they are providing quality instruction as well as building connections with students.”

In Ely, high school students saw reading scores tumble sharply, from 87 percent proficiency last year to 54.3 percent this year. Math scores held steady, with 54 percent showing proficiency.

Educators are quick to note that test scores often fail to tell the full story of educational success. “Test scores are just one part of the picture to understand how students are doing in Minnesota,” said Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. “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.”

Educators also point out that state test scores offer only a limited basis for comparing schools. Students from lower income or minority backgrounds, and students with special needs, can significantly influence a school’s academic achievement. Schools with high numbers of low income or minority students or a large number of students qualified for special education, tend to have lower test scores than schools with predominantly white students from higher income households.

And those numbers vary significantly from school-to-school in the region. At Vermilion Country School, for example, minority students comprise 30 percent of the student body and 72 percent come from low income backgrounds. Fully 37 percent qualify for special education services. At the opposite extreme, Ely’s student body is 89 percent white, with only 31 percent coming from a low-income background. Minorities comprise just six percent of the student body at Northeast Range, with 38 percent coming from a low-income household.

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