St. Paul science success


Jim Schrankler is a modest man. His students just made the high water mark in the state science test and he’s trying to spread the glory around. He’s pointing his finger at the students, at the classroom teachers, at the computer specialist, at the parents.

Schrankler and the staff at St. Anthony Park Elementary in St. Paul have a right to be proud. Ninety-six percent of Schrankler’s fifth-graders at were at least proficient in the 2008 MCA-II science test – the best in the state.

“It’s just one test on one day given to a small group of students. By no means is it a trend,” Schrankler said.

The other schools in the top five were Atheneum Elementary in Inver Grove Heights, Nova Classical Academy charter school, Math and Science Academy charter school, and Mahtomedi High School. None had more than 90 percent above proficient. No other St. Paul schools scored nearly as well as St. Anthony Park Elementary.

The scores did not go unnoticed.

“They are the highest performing elementary school in the state,” said St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Maria Carstarphen. “When I saw the results, I said ‘When is their first staff meeting? I’m going to be there to congratulate them’.”

The MCA-II science test was given via computer to fifth, eighth and 11th graders in May. It was the first year the science test was given and will join the MCA-II tests in math and reading to mark school progress used to chart No Child Left Behind progress.

Many educators abhor the NCLB process, saying it puts too much importance on one flawed test and not enough on the growth of the student. They also say the emphasis on high test scores forces teachers to emphasize test subjects at the expense of other school subjects.

Carstarphen takes a philosophical view.”At the end of the day it comes down to teaching. If you have standards and teachers who work collaboratively to reinforce those standards, then you can meet your expectations – expectations, not test results. They’re very different.”

Science at St. Anthony Park rotates on a three-day cycle with physical education and music. Students use a hands-on model known as “Full Option Science System” kits. The curriculum encourages students to build their own experiments to better learn the subject.

Schrankler conducts widely popular “science nights” for first, second and third grades, plus a school-wide science night that brings out almost every student. A parent group also helps students attend science camps and field trips during the year, including one to the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Ely.

St. Anthony Park has about 50 fifth graders of which about 10 qualify for free and reduced price lunch. He said the English language learner population is low.

Carstarphen said the formula for success doesn’t include magic. The job gets done by high quality teachers aligned to standards that make school engaging for students and who work with administrators that provides support and parents that are involved.

Schrankler and the St. Anthony Park team “got organized and did well,” Carstarphen said. “A high quality teacher like Jim Schrankler makes a huge difference in student achievement.”

No Child Left Behind is an imperfect instrument. Its value is limited to providing a snapshot of student achievement. But it can show achievement and Jim Schrankler and the parents and staff at St. Anthony Park should feel a sense of accomplishment.