BY ERICA ALLENBURG

GUEST COLUMNIST

I have had a successful career utilizing analytics to drive improvements and strategies for Fortune 100 companies and am a current Edina School Board member. So, I continue to be disappointed by members of our own community who misuse data to promote a false narrative that our schools are in decline. Information misunderstood or used in demonstrably false ways is harmful to our entire community. Facts matter.

• Fact Set 1 – At the high school level, most educational experts agree that the best way to measure student academic achievement is through ACT scores, AP scores, graduation rates and preparation for students’ next level. And by all of these measures, Edina is among the best, if not the best, in the state.

Over the past five-plus years, Edina has had the highest, or second-highest, ACT scores in Minnesota (when we are second highest, it is by one-tenth and two-tenths of a point, respectively), our 2019 ACT scores landed at 26.6, our highest mark in five years, with extremely high participation. Is it because, as some are saying, our students are tutored? No. Less than 13% of our graduating seniors report they received tutoring at school, according to the 2018 Edina High School Senior Survey.

According to state data, we have the highest numbers of students taking AP classes of any school in the state (54%, with the next closet being 45%). Additionally, students scoring a 3-5 (the score you need for college credit) is also among the highest percentage in Minnesota (above 85% - the state average is 66%). Our graduation rates hover around 97%.

• Fact 2 – 95% of 2018 and 2019 seniors report feeling prepared for their post-high school plans, and 95% were planning on attending college, according to the 2018 Edina High School Senior Survey

• Fact Set 3 – MCA scores, by themselves, are not a complete measure of a school district or student achievement. Edina Schools ran a pilot last year to see MCA score impact if students were incentivized to try their best. The results? Tenth-grade science MCA scores went from 70.4% to 93%. In elementary and middle schools, we are seeing some good trends, with pockets of room for improvements. Our MAP growth numbers are very good, showing our highest achievers are growing at high rates, while we have work to do to support our mid- and lower-scoring learners.

• Fact Set 4 – The US News and World Report stating that Edina “dropped” to No. 10 on its list of best schools in Minnesota is dramatically misconstrued. U.S. News and World Report states, “Since the methodology changed so significantly this year [2019], a school’s ranking in the 2019 Best High Schools ranking can’t be compared with its rankings in any previous U.S. News ranking.” These new rankings meant four of the top 10 Minnesota schools in 2019 were new schools in the top ranks and some schools dropped significantly, such as Long Prairie, going from No. 3 in the state to No. 28.

It is my belief that school is a holistic experience, with each unique student experience building on the others. And this is where Edina Schools really shine. Edina Schools has best-in-nation athletics, teaching leadership, teamwork and competition. Our award-winning robotics program enhances and extends science and technology learning. Our outstanding music programs support the same skills that build language arts and foreign language skills. Our best-in-state debate and Model United Nations teams help develop analytical and critical thinking skills. And there is so much more for our students.

As we talk about rankings and scores, whether factually presented or not, we need to be mindful that the pressure to maintain a “No. 1” position comes at a cost. Eighty-one percent of our students report moderate and severe stress levels by their junior year of high school. And a recent Pew survey found that 70% of teens say anxiety and depression is a “major problem” among their peers, describing today’s high school environment as an epidemic of anxiety.

Our students’ health and education should be our primary focus, not spreading misinformation that demeans our schools.

At the same time, I find negativity and untruths frustrating, I do want to elevate all of the good in our community. Thank you to all of our community members who do so much to support Edina Schools. I hope we can all work together to build up our schools. Our schools make our community. There is no other place I would rather raise my children. And that’s a fact.

Erica Allenburg is a member of the Edina School Board.

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