Joshua Citrano works on a word study assignment Wednesday morning at Washburn Elementary School in Auburn. “I’m kind of a vocabulary nerd and just like sounding smart,” he said. “My parents have been reading to me since before I was born,” the fourth grader said as he finished his assignment. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

AUBURN — At a time when schools across the country are striving to bridge learning gaps caused by the pandemic, the Auburn school district is celebrating significant gains in reading and math proficiency.

School Committee members were delighted to learn that every school in Auburn showed improvement in both subjects from 2021 to 2022 — some by as much as 30% — at the city’s annual State of the Schools presentation Wednesday night.

Districtwide, 80% of students met the NWEA’s reading standards in the fall of 2022, up from 62% in 2021. In math, 78% of students were proficient in 2022 compared to 56% the year before.

NWEA, formerly known as the Northwest Evaluation Association, is a research-based not-for-profit organization that creates academic assessments for students from prekindergarten to gradee 12.

“This goes against the national trends right now, to trend up and to trend up that significantly,” Chairperson Karen Mathieu said following a report from Principal Erik Gray of Washburn Elementary School, which saw some of the greatest improvements.

Superintendent Cornelia Brown attributed the district’s success to the hard work of school staff, adding that more professional development opportunities and new reading and math curriculums are “paying big dividends.”


At the elementary level, overall proficiency rates were similar to those of economically disadvantaged students. For Fairview Elementary School, where one in three students is economically disadvantaged, there was virtually no difference in either math or reading.

After finishing her assignment Wednesday morning at Washburn Elementary School in Auburn, fourth grader Penelope Eisenhaur cuddles up in her cubby with a bag of chips and reads a Harry Potter book as other classmates finish theirs. “My brothers have been bugging me to read it; it’s a family thing,” she said. “Everyone in my family reads a lot.” Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

n years past, Ward 2 school committee representative Pamela Hart said she often heard people attribute Auburn’s poor school performance to the large number of economically disadvantaged students in the district.

“You have all proven this year that it’s not a disadvantage as far as education, and these kids can learn just as much as you when they have the opportunity,” she said to Walton Elementary School Principal Michael Davis. “Kudos to all of you for just really looking into the data and making us see that . . . we can do it.”

Last year, nearly half of all Auburn students were identified as economically disadvantaged, according to state data.

It’s difficult to compare current proficiency levels in Auburn schools with results before 2021, when the district began using the NWEA. Assistant Superintendent Sue Doris told the School Committee that the previous standardized tests — the Standardized Test for the Assessment of Reading & Math at the elementary and middle school levels, and the SAT at the high school level — are “similar, but they are different assessments.”

Brown said the STAR and NWEA assessments are very comparable: “That’s, I think, a pretty good comparison.”


In all cases, students scored higher on the NWEA in 2022 than in any other fall exam since at least 2018.

Still, as Brown celebrates the rising scores, she acknowledges there is still room for improvement, particularly among special education students who, as a group, at times performed well-below the overall proficiency rates.

A new book vending machine stands Wednesday in the hallway of Washburn Elementary School in Auburn. Students earn tokens that can be used to purchase books. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal


In addition to improvements in standardized test scores, the four-year graduation rate at Edward Little High School reached a 10-year high in 2022, and Franklin Alternative School achieved a perfect 100%.

Edward Little saw a large spike in its graduation rate after Auburn modified its requirements last year to allow students to earn their diploma with fewer credits than previously required. From 2018-2021, the high school graduated about three out of four students in the standard four-year time frame. That rate jumped to 89% in 2022.

In contrast, Franklin has gradually improved its graduation rate every year since 2018, when 75% of students graduated on time. Last year, all 16 seniors received their diploma.


“It’s hard to have 100% because you can only go down from there,” Principal Melissa McLeod joked with the School Committee. “We’re cautiously optimistic we can maintain, but now we hit that benchmark and we’re going to pay for it a little bit.”

Enrollment at Franklin has been on the rise over the past two years. The school is nearly at capacity with 98 students enrolled this year compared to 61 students in the 2020-21 school year. There are more than double the number of seniors in the Class of 2020 than 2023.

Chronic absenteeism — defined as students who miss 10% or more of enrolled school days — was also shown to be on the rise in many Auburn schools this year, particularly the high school.

At Edward Little, one in three students has been chronically absent so far this year; at the middle school, it’s slightly lower at 29%. About one in five students have been chronically absent at the elementary school level.

Administrators attributed the rise to a surge in flu and other respiratory viruses in November and December, with some saying they’ve simply been more strict with attendance policies now than during the pandemic.

“In the past, they have some Tylenol, go to school get some tissues, you’re good to go,” Edward Little Principal Scott Annear said. But as a result of the pandemic, parents and students are being more mindful of staying home when sick.

The high chronic absenteeism rate at the high school is in part reflective of the 300% growth in students identified as homeless or unaccompanied, he added.

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