Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Despite initial trepidation over MCA scores, ML resident regains confidence


November 15, 2018

Byron Kuster of Moose Lake was very concerned about the low MCA (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment) scores at the Moose Lake Community School that came out in early October. The tests were given in the spring to several elementary grades and high school grades in all public schools in Minnesota.

Kuster spent many hours on the computer and compared the test scores in Moose Lake with the scores in five area schools. Moose Lake came out below the scores in other schools and below the state average of the scores in all of the schools.

For example, the scores on the website:, Kuster found that Esko had the highest score in reading at 81.6 percent, Barnum had 71.9 percent, Willow River had 65.9 percent, Carlton had 61.3 percent and East Central had 59.9 percent. The state average was 59.2 percent. For Moose Lake, the score was 51.9 percent.

He was alarmed.

“I started looking for more information,” he said in a recent interview. “The more information that I found, the more concerned I became.

“The school board had set the goals for the school district in the spring to state that every child should be able to read at grade level by grade three. And it stated that the school ‘shall remain a leader in the area in student learning and achievement.’ That wasn’t happening.”

Kuster, who has a Masters Degree in Education and has supported the school, continued to do his homework. He met with Superintendent Robert Indihar and Elementary Principal Kraig Konietzko.

“I wasn’t trying to find someone to blame,” said Kuster. “I just wanted to know how to solve the problem. I wanted to understand how we got here.”

Kuster said he has four grandchildren in the school.

“But it wouldn’t matter if I had kids in the school,” he said. “I have focused my life on education. I have taught adult basic education in the prison system. I saw the shame of adults who can’t read well. So much is reading-based, you need to be able to read in life. The state has determined that it is important to read well by third grade. They monitor that closely.”

Kuster met with four school board members but they were unable to answer his questions.

Kuster wondered where the problem was: curriculum or not teaching phonics, which affects vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.

“A lot of schools in Carlton County have school support workers,” he said. “They had one in Moose Lake but have discontinued the program. The counselor makes referrals to the county, and those families qualify for other things.”

“We are a targeted school,” he said. “That means that we are eligible for support. Let’s use it. I just want to see this problem fixed. How long will it take? There are some kids in sixth grade that are not appropriately educated. I don’t know what will happen when they get to high school.”

Kuster continued his search for answers and met with several elementary teachers and the counselor to hear more about their teaching methods.

“I was pretty impressed with what the elementary counselor, Jillian McGee, does,” he said. “She knows the state standards and keeps track. The curriculum is not designed to meet the standards. The students must have a depth of knowledge. It is shallower for the lower grades and deeper for the higher grades. When they look at the standards, they look at what every student should know. The MCA test is standards driven.”

Kuster said that standards driven is different than teaching to the test.

“The teachers don’t know what the questions will be on the MCA tests,” he said. “But it is important that the concepts have been covered.

“Jillian has a book that is marked with highlights. That helps her in communicating with the teachers. I met with several teachers, and I was really impressed with what they are doing.

“In the past, every teacher did his or her own thing. They didn’t communicate. Now they are coming into agreements about what each will teach. They discuss that in the 45-minute weekly PLC (Professional Learning Communities) meetings.

“It’s a whole different kind of teaching than I have been used to. It’s designed to be teacher driven. They report back to the principal.”

Kuster said that he was greatly relieved after talking to the teachers but he had suggestions.

He recommends that phonics instruction is needed in all K-3 classrooms, not just Title I; consider hiring a School Support Worker; closely monitor attendance of all students; that trimester updates be presented to the school board to stay on top of the issue, and change the wording in the school board’s goals from ‘remain a leader’ to ‘become a leader.’

“I’m way less concerned now after talking to the teachers,” he said. “I am relieved to hear about the specific things that they are doing and all of the time that they are putting into it.

“Those people really care. They are working on the problem. They told me that they were happy that I was concerned and had spoken with them. I feel that they are on the right track.

“I want a school that provides a good education for the students so they can be successful in life.”

Kuster said he was going to write to each of the school board members about his concerns and the potential solutions.


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