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Frazee kids earn highest science scores in area

MCA II science proficiency rates

Test scores on the science portion of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments Series II exam ranged from great to abysmal for area districts in results released by the state Tuesday.

The results do not count towards Adequate Yearly Progress requirements, but they are an indication of how well a district's curriculum lines up with state standards.

"Scientific literacy is more and more important in today's economy and everyday life," said, Karen Klinzing, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Education.

She said that the results could help refocus districts, or affirm the approach they are taking for those schools that are doing well.

Comparing test results from last year's first edition of the science exam -- not an apples-to-apples comparison since the students who took the test last year aren't taking it for the most part this year -- show an slight increase in science proficiency rates statewide. The increases range from 4 to 7 percentage points.

The highest proficiency rates in the area belong to the Frazee-Vergas district. Its staff has reason to celebrate as 87 percent of its fifth graders achieved proficiency, compared to a state average of 45 percent.

"We're pretty excited," said Frazee Principal Brian Koslofsky.

Eighth-graders and high-schoolers at Frazee-Vergas also outpaced the state average. The eighth grade proficiency rate stood at 48 percent, above the state mark of 43 percent. High school students achieved a 57 percent proficiency average, compared to 49 percent across the state.

Koslofsky said that the district implement a new science curriculum a few years ago, which obviously has helped students achieve proficiency.

The district was the only one in the area to achieve proficiency above the state average in all three levels.

"A lot of the credit needs to be given to the staff," Koslofsky said.

On the bottom of the list was Waubun-Ogema-White Earth, with results that severely lagged behind the state average.

The fifth grade results were the worst of the bunch as only 9 percent of students achieved proficiency.

"That's not looking too pretty," said Waubun Superintendent Mitch Anderson.

Anderson said that part of the issue with the low scores was that the science test is a relatively new addition to the curriculum.

The older grades didn't fare much better as 25 percent of eighth graders achieved proficiency and 19 percent of high school students met the proficiency bar.

"We add to it with the math and the reading to look at," Anderson said as to what the administration is going to focus on for staff development.

He said that in the past couple of years, science has taken a back seat to math and reading as far as the MCA-II's go. In addition, Anderson said that the district's science curriculum dates to the early 1990s. Teachers have to supplement old textbooks with new material.

"We haven't had a chance to purchase new curriculum," Anderson said, citing budget cuts going back a few years.

Only two students throughout the entire district, both in the eighth grade, had scores that exceeded proficiency standards.

"We're going to step back and see what we're doing," Anderson said.

Detroit Lakes' results were below par for eighth-graders and at the high school level. The eighth-graders achieved at 33 percent proficiency rate and 41 percent of high school students taking the exam were proficient.

"These are results that concern us a little bit," said DL Superintendent Doug Froke.

Fifth-graders were above the state average as 51 percent of that group achieved proficiency.

Froke said that with most students not achieving proficiency, it calls into question when to introduce test concepts in the classroom.

"We'll need to call on our science staff to evaluate our discrepancies," Froke said.

As other superintendents in the area have said, Froke said that math and reading have taken most of the district's attention to testing.

"It's taken a back seat to the reading and math emphasis," Froke said.

Marks in Lake Park-Audubon were near the state average in two of the three levels tested.

The fifth-graders achieved a 39 percent proficiency mark and the high school students scored at the state average of 49 percent.

The only blemish was the eighth-grade results. Close to 28 percent of eighth graders achieved proficiency.

Lake Park-Audubon Superintendent Dale Hogie said that the science curriculum would be changed to "teach toward the test."

"There will be a little bit of a change in focus," Hogie said.

He said that the district would move to more of a memorization approach so that students become more familiar with terminology.

"We've been doing a lot of exploration and hands-on material," Hogie said of the current curriculum.

But he said that the public gauges the district's success on test results in some cases.

There is an upside to the shift to more rote memorization, Hogie said.

"There should be a positive impact on reading scores," he said.