The Brainerd School District continues to perform well in the scheme of districts across the state -- though, demographic changes loom large in the not-so-distant future and schools in the lakes area should look to make adjustments.

That was the long and short of it from Tim Murtha, the district’s director of teaching and learning. Presenting on numbers crunched from the 2018-19 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment, Murtha noted Brainerd School District students are achieving in the 5th-15th percentile above state averages in reading, math, science and other achievement metrics.

“It’s very consistent. If the state takes a small dip, we take a small dip,” said Murtha, who noted the district’s success is always above the state’s average, but follows its upward and downward trends. “It’s uniform across every content area.”

Tim Murtha, the director of teaching and learning at the Brainerd School District, gives a presentation on the results of the 2018-2019 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment. While the district continues to excel above the state average in math, reading and science proficiency, he said, the lakes area will need to make adjustments to address proficiency gaps among its special education and impoverished students. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch
Tim Murtha, the director of teaching and learning at the Brainerd School District, gives a presentation on the results of the 2018-2019 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment. While the district continues to excel above the state average in math, reading and science proficiency, he said, the lakes area will need to make adjustments to address proficiency gaps among its special education and impoverished students. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

For the 2018-19 school year, 62.9% of Brainerd students were proficient in math, 68.9% in reading, and 63.9% in science. This compares to state averages of 55.5% in math, 59.7% in reading and 50.7% in science.

The most successful demographic in the student body are white “uncomplicated” students, Murtha noted, or -- in other words -- Caucasian students who do not require special education services and who do not come from impoverished backgrounds.

However, while this group has largely been the majority in the district for decades, there are changes coming. Roughly 22.2% of students, or 1 in 5, are enrolled in special education, Murtha said, and students in poverty are now the majority at Riverside, Garfield and Harrison elementary schools.

“This pattern of success is based on our success with (white uncomplicated students),” Murtha said. “But, what you’ll see is that our greatest opportunities for growth in math -- as with science and reading -- are students in special education and students who are impoverished. There is a wide achievement gap. This is a primary area of concern for us.”

While white “uncomplicated” students in 2018-19 were 77.1% proficient in math and 81.2% proficient in reading, students with special education needs or from impoverished backgrounds did not perform to that level. There’s a 37.1% proficiency gap in reading for special education students and 36.7% gap in math, while impoverished students were 21.4% less proficient in reading and 23.8% less proficient in math compared to white “uncomplicated” students..

Murtha noted the district should look to “flatten out” its results from student to student, class to class and grade to grade -- or, in other words, to create a consistent and effective curriculum across the board, then to address difficulties that may affect some students and not others.

Of particular interest, he added, is entrance points. Entrance points identify when students jump from one educational institution to another -- whether that’s fourth to fifth grades, from middle school to high school, or from private schooling such as St. Francis of the Lakes Catholic School to public schooling at Brainerd High School. For example, while students perform well in language arts from fourth into fifth, these results are not as well replicated in eighth grade going into ninth.

In addition, Murtha said the district has been organizing teams of educators and administrators to formulate a framework of assessments, metrics and analytics going forward -- not only to better educate students, he noted, but also to better assess their progress. In turn, educators can then be equipped to tackle the individual struggles some students face.

“Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments are important to us, but they’re not the only measure of success in the school district,” Murtha said. “It won’t give you all the answers. No assessment will. We want to find patterns of success in all sorts of data to have a good sense of what we’re good at and what we need to work at.”

In other business, the board:

Accepted the resignations of Kim Bandown, an assistant cook at Riverside Elementary, effective Aug. 26; Paul Kath, a special education paraprofessional at Forestview Middle School, effective Sept. 16; Britni Rivers, a special education paraprofessional at Lincoln Education Center, effective Sept. 3; Matthew Roerig, a behavior management specialist at Brainerd High School, effective Sept. 6; Thomas Stevens, a custodian at Forestview, effective Sept. 1; Marie Ward, an assistant cook at Forestview, effective Sept. 3; Barb Soderman, an assistant cook at St. Francis of the Lakes Catholic School, effective Aug. 30; and Missy Yunker, a special education paraprofessional at BHS.

Approved 12 weeks of family and medical leave for Carle Hoffman, effective Oct. 3; Karol Kruse, effective Sept. 13; Shannon Moran, effective Feb. 2; and Jody Stout, effective Sept. 3.

Approved a field trip for the Brainerd chapter FFA to the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2.

Approved a field trip for students to participate in Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs Stars spring convention May 7-8, 2020 in Bloomington.

Approved a field trip April 23-24, 2020, to the Audubon Center of the North Woods in Sandstone for students to participate in environmental learning programming provided by staff.

Then and now -- a look at the numbers

For math, Murtha said the district is meeting state standards.

  • In 2015, 67.1% of Brainerd School District students were proficient. The state average was 61.6% for that year.

  • 2016 -- Brainerd, 65.6%. State, 60.9%.

  • 2017 -- Brainerd, 67.5%. State, 59.9%.

  • 2018 -- Brainerd, 66.7%. State, 58.4%.

  • 2019 -- Brainerd, 62.9%. State, 55.5%.

For reading, Murtha said the district is also meeting state standards.

  • 2015 -- Brainerd, 66.3%. State, 60.6%.

  • 2016 -- Brainerd, 68.4%. State, 60.9%.

  • 2017 -- Brainerd, 67.9%. State, 61.2%.

  • 2018 -- Brainerd, 67.7%. State, 58.4%.

  • 2019 -- Brainerd, 68.9%. State, 59.7%.

For science, Murtha said the district continues to meet state standards.

  • 2015 -- Brainerd, 66%. State, 54.5%.

  • 2016 -- Brainerd, 67.6%. State, 56.2%.

  • 2017 -- Brainerd, 68.7%. State, 55.3%.

  • 2018 -- Brainerd, 68.8%. State, 52.7%.

  • 2019 -- Brainerd, 63.9%. State, 50.7%.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article erroneously misquoted Murtha on whether or not the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments were important to the Brainerd School District. The current article reflects his corrected statement. The Dispatch regrets his error.