The schools in the surrounding Alexandria area scored, as a whole, above the state average in the Minnesota Department of Education’s recently-released Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment scores.
Every student in grades 3-8 plus 10th grade takes a reading test, all students in grades 3-8 plus every 11th grade student takes a math test, and students in grades 5 and 8 take the science test. High school students are also required to take the science test once.
The state results also included attendance figures, and all three Douglas County school districts came out above the statewide mark of 85.4%. Alexandria had an 88.4% overall attendance figure, Brandon-Evansville 90.2% and Osakis hit 95.8%.
“I’m really pleased overall with how Osakis did,” said Randy Bergquist, superintendent of Osakis public schools.
The district had 67.8% of students meeting standards in science, which is 17.1% above the statewide percentage of 50.7%.
“That’s great. That’s incredible. Our science scores, I’d put them up against any school district in the state,” he said.
For math, 62.4% of students met standards, 6.9% better than the statewide math average for that subject.
“We’ve always been a strong math district here, which is awesome,” he said, noting a strong math program starts in elementary school. High school teachers supplement the math curriculum with their own material, which adds to students’ learning.
In reading, the district scored 64.4%, 2.5% better than the state average.
Bergquist credited faculty for the MCA results, and also paraprofessionals, kitchen and custodial staff, bus drivers and others who work together to encourage students to do well.
“It’s about making kids feel comfortable when they come to school, and hopefully their comfort will help them to do as well as they possibly can on the MCAs.”
MCA tests are a snapshot of a student on a particular day, he said, and because of that, he’s not a big fan of the tests. Multiple factors, such as if students had a bad morning or night, didn’t eat breakfast, got into a fight with their sibling or into trouble with their parents could cause them to perform not as well as they could have.
The district's overall results fell from last year's numbers. Math was 7.3% below the 2018 score, science 3.8% under last year, and reading 2.2%. Bergquist said he doesn’t know exactly why the scores went down, but has some speculation.
“They’re a whole group of different kids that took the test, number one," he said. "Number two, we missed a lot of school last year because of the winter.”
He said the days that were cancelled were in the crucial time frame from January through April right before the tests, when students and staff are preparing for them.
The Alexandria school district also scored higher in all three subject areas than the state average, registering 10.2% higher in math, 6.1% in reading and 3.8% in science.
Rick Sansted, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning in the district, said the results are a reflection of having students, teachers, families and the community working together to support student learning.
Although the district as a whole did better than the state's numbers, the math and reading numbers decreased from 2018, by 5.2% and 1.5% respectively.
Science, however, went up from 51.5% in 2018 to 54.5% in 2019, while statewide numbers fell 1.3%.
Sansted said analysis of why the number shifts occurred will be discussed in future meetings as the data helps inform the district of what steps to take next.
“We’re working with our building leadership teams to create those plans for improvement as we go to kick off this school year," he said.
The MCA tests are only one data point, and other measuring tools are used to help inform instructional practices, Sansted said. Not all students learn at the same pace, and they are are expected to not only develop content mastery but also skills such as communication, critical thinking, creativity and others.
“Any time that we can support the good work that our teachers are doing and celebrate that, whether that’s on a small scale or a big scale, that’s a good thing,” he said.
Sansted said no district school had low enough scores to cause particular concern. The main goal for teachers is to help students grow.
Superintendent Don Peschel was pleased with the performance of the students in the district.
The district scored higher in each subject area than the state as a whole, bettering it by 16.1% in math, 15.6% in science and 2.2% in reading.
“Our math test scores have been unbelievable; they’re very, very high,” Peschel said of the 71.6% who met standards at Brandon-Evansville.
From last year, scores fell in math by 7.7% and 1.4% in reading, but they rose by 2.3% in science.
Many factors go into test scores and missing a significant number of days of school due to weather circumstances is one of the major factors of lower scores, Peschel said. However, the faculty is going to look into these scores and see them as indicators for improvement.
Peschel said he doesn’t like to look at any scores as negative, especially when they are still above the state average.
However, high school students in the district increased their test scores in all subject areas, going from 56% in 2018 to 75.9% in 2019 in math, from 62.1% to 75% in reading and from 37.9% to 65.5% in science.
Group dynamics play a large role in MCA test results, Peschel said, and the high test results are a celebration of success for all teachers in grades K-12.
“That’s impressive. When you get scores like that, obviously that is a credit to the teachers that are doing the work in the high school, but also there’s been a progression of work that’s been done with the educators that are below,” he said.
He said the district is going to focus on bringing reading scores up for next year.