Duluth math and reading scores increase, but gaps widen

The Duluth school district's state math and reading scores show slight improvement overall, but several student groups continue to fall dramatically short of proficiency goals. Math and reading scores remain above the state average, with 60 perce...

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(file / News Tribune)


The Duluth school district's state math and reading scores show slight improvement overall, but several student groups continue to fall dramatically short of proficiency goals.

Math and reading scores remain above the state average, with 60 percent proficient in math and 64 percent in reading. The state's reading scores didn't change, but math scores dropped slightly.

A deeper look shows that some groups in Duluth's schools continue to lag behind and some achievement gaps have widened from the prior year. With only 19 percent of black students proficient in math, that group is now 66 percentage points away from the state's new 2025 goal.

The Minnesota Department of Education released state standardized test results last week as part of its new, federally approved school accountability system under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the North Star system.


The rollout highlighted a system for measuring schools that considers more than just test scores. Class attendance, growth over time and graduation rates are also factored into deciding which schools need help and for who, as a way to improve learning in a more equitable way and pinpoint areas of struggle. The new system identified far more schools than previously to get support, and also named schools that did well. The state purposely focused less on scores in its release of information.

ESSA itself guides states in that direction, said MDE spokesman Josh Collins, but in the state agency's meetings with families across Minnesota, it heard that the intense focus on test scores meant a narrower education for their kids.

"It's been at the expense of things like art and physical education," he said, and the hope is a broader focus will allow teachers more freedom with their instruction.

But, the new system means scores are among the few ways to measure progress right now, and many Duluth groups fall severely short of the state's goal of having 90 percent of all students proficient in reading and math by 2025, and no single group of students is below 85 percent proficiency.

Of note in the Duluth school district:

  • The achievement gap between black and white students widened slightly in both reading and math. It also widened in math between Native American and white students. While the ranges are different, none of the groups are close to proficiency goals.
  • The scores of students who receive special education increased slightly in math to 29 percent meeting standards, but were flat in reading at 27 percent. Several Duluth schools will receive extra state support for special education instruction under the new accountability system.
  • For students who receive free or reduced-price lunch, a poverty indicator, math scores dropped slightly to 40 percent proficient, with reading also dropping slightly to 44.5 percent.
  • Scores for Native American students remained fairly flat, with 39 percent meeting standards in math and 44 percent in reading.
  • The results for white students were also flat, with 65.5 percent proficient in math and 70 percent in reading.
  • The scores of black students remained flat in reading at 27 percent.
  • Denfeld and East high schools both had noticeable gains in math, and sizeable drops in reading proficiency.
  • Stowe Elementary had increases in both reading and math; notable because its principal, Nathan Glockle, was transferred to the school last year after he spent years working to successfully improve achievement at Laura MacArthur Elementary.

Something new at Stowe last year, Glockle said, was dedicated time set aside each day for kids to work with teachers on areas where extra help was needed.
"It wasn't a major change, but it was a huge change in giving kids what they need," he said.

New Duluth assistant superintendent Jeff Horton said he was "pleased we are above the state average. ... We see some great things in some areas and areas of need."

He said the district's use of "continuous improvement" teams - staff at each school that sift through data to find where more work is needed and decide how to spend money to improve performance, for example - has been effective in showing reading growth over time. That process, along with working with the state's Regional Centers of Excellence, will allow the district to examine closely the low scores of several student groups, he said.


As to how the district expects to meet the new state achievement goal, Horton said he was "excited to do the work to help our students get there."

Scores in the Hermantown and Proctor school districts remained flat, along with Duluth Edison Charter Schools. While Hermantown tested significantly higher than the state average - with 67 percent proficient in math and 71 percent in reading - Proctor and Duluth Edison both hovered near it.

Collins said the state would like to see numbers move more quickly in a positive direction, but the accountability system is designed to help do that.

"We believe we won't see those state numbers move in a meaningful way until we begin changing things classroom by classroom, school by school," he said.

Scores statewide have been flat for several years, and the achievement gap hasn't budged, said Jim Bartholomew, education policy director for the Minnesota Business Group, which tracks school progress.

"If 40 percent of high school graduates aren't able to read at the high school level, opportunities will be far more limited," he said, with a changing economy and rising global expectations.

Figuring out what works will be different for every school, he said, but "there is an incredible sense of urgency."

Fifteen area schools will receive additional help from the state to improve outcomes.


To see how your school or district did, see the Minnesota Report Card at .

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