Duluth school district leaders say they are excited that the district is making progress on its annual reading, math and science test scores.

"There's always pros and cons, and good things, and things to look at that we need more work on, but we're excited to be able to say, as a district, we made progress in all three areas," Superintendent Bill Gronseth said.

The district is trending in the right direction in math, science and reading on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, the results of which were released today, said Tawnyea Lake, the district's director of assessment, evaluation and performance.

"If you look historically at where we've been, in the last four years, we've increased our reading scores by 7 percentage points and 11 (percentage points) in math, while the state has remained relatively flat, so I think that's encouraging," she said.

While Duluth students tested proficient in reading on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments at a higher rate than the state average, many grade levels in Duluth either fell under the state average or were at about the state average in science and math, according to MCA test results released today. Gronseth noted that scores at Duluth East and Denfeld high schools dipped this year and district administration needs to look into the reason behind it.

Gronseth said district staff is happy to see progress, but progress hasn't happened at the same pace for all students. The achievement gap has narrowed in some areas, while widening in others. The district is considering ways it has been successful and is expanding that work, he said, especially developing professional learning communities for staff and a multitiered systems of support for students.

Staff was happy to see the gains made at schools that serve greater numbers of low-income and minority populations, and the district has been purposeful in its work, he said.

Lake noted that Lester Park, Piedmont and Lowell elementary schools served as the district's "pilot schools" this past year for aiding students based on their needs through multitiered systems of support. As part of the program, reading is a focus, and "in all three of those schools, we saw some really nice gains," Lake said. The systems track a student's work on an ongoing basis so staff is able to provide support earlier.

Michael Cary, the district's director of curriculum and instruction, added that the standards-based report card is a helpful addition to the multi-tiered systems of support. He said many teachers feel they track their students' progress better since the report card was implemented.

Overall, the district is celebrating that its MCA scores have moved in the right direction for several years now, Gronseth said. It comes down to resources available.

"I would love to see a huge jump in numbers and with the right resources, we might be able to do that. But with limited funds, we do as much as we possibly can," he said.

Statewide, reading and science scores increased while math scores declined, and achievement gaps between white students and students of color persist, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said in a statement that it was "disappointing to see the slow pace of progress."

"The only way we will close these stubborn gaps is if we address with equal urgency the opportunity gaps outside of school that impact children's likelihood of school success. That means paying attention to and supporting families from birth, ensuring they have access to high-quality childcare and early education, stable housing, economic opportunity, fair wages that support families and healthcare when they need it," Cassellius said in a statement.

Gronseth agreed with Cassellius' statement, saying the district has areas where students are improving, but other students are improving more quickly, causing the achievement gap to widen.

"We agree with the commissioner that for some of this, it really takes the whole community to address the issues, especially when you're talking about the effects of poverty, especially in early childhood - making sure that families, young families, have the support they need to help students be prepared for school and have the experiences that they need to be successful in their early education," he said.

Students are more successful when they are cared for both physically and mentally, and have great learning experiences early on in life, he said.

"Having the whole community come together and support young families would help us to close the achievement gap long-term," he said.