Minnesota students sound off on the MCA IIsby Laura McCallum, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota schools are in the final days of giving students math and reading tests called the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments Series Two, or MCA IIs. The redesigned tests were given for the first time last year, and the math scores for 11th graders were nothing to brag about. Less than one-third of high school juniors did well enough on the test to be considered proficient in math, and many students didn't even finish the test last year.
Minneapolis, Minn. — The results of the MCA IIs are used to determine whether schools and districts have made adequate yearly progress, or AYP, for the No Child Left Behind education law. Last year's poor math test scores were one reason many schools didn't make AYP, which can lead to penalties.
At the time, state education officials said the MCA II math test was a longer, tougher test than students were used to. They also wondered whether some students didn't take the test seriously, since it doesn't affect their GPA, only their school's status for No Child Left Behind. That appears to be the case this year as well.
"Most people, I think, just thought it was a pointless test," said Jasmine Erickson, a junior at Como Park High School in St. Paul who took the MCA IIs last week.
Erickson is taking trigonometry right now, and said she thought the problems on the test were easy. But Erickson was a little confused by one section that asks students to explain their reasoning. Erickson said she didn't know whether to simply show her work or write out an answer.
Last year on that section, juniors left about one-third of those answers blank. Erickson said she did her best on the MCA IIs, although she's a little tired of tests right now.
"I just took the ACT a couple of weeks ago, so I was just kind of in the mode of, just take the test, get it over with, do your best," Erickson said. "I'm pretty sure if it was the ACT, I would have tried a lot harder, but I didn't do badly on purpose, I guess you could say."
Erickson and the other juniors MPR talked to say while they didn't try to bomb the test, they saw other students who didn't make much of an effort.
At Andover High School, the newest high school in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, junior Megan Keller said some students rushed through the test.
"A lot of people just bubbled-in answers, I think," Keller said.
"Bubbled-in" means students randomly filled in the multiple choice bubbles. One of Keller's classmates, Dan Probst, said he's sure some students didn't do the section that asked them to explain their reasoning.
"Some of the students finished so quickly that there's no way they could have worked through all the problems," said Probst. "They had to have just filled them in, bubbled-in the answers and maybe skipped the free response."
Probst and Keller said some students finished the test in 10 minutes. Another Andover student, Benjamin Graham, said one student in his homeroom finished in just two minutes.
Graham thought the math test was fairly simple and straightforward. That's not surprising, since Graham is taking honors trigonometry. But while Andover High has plenty of advanced math students like Graham, the school's math test scores were not impressive last year. Only 28 percent of the school's juniors were proficient in math, less than the state average.
South High School in Minneapolis did slightly better than the state average. Thirty-five percent of juniors were proficient in math last year.
MPR talked to some juniors at South who are taking algebra I because they struggle with math. None of them had trouble finishing the test. Jackee Heslop said she doesn't like math, but she thought the test was pretty easy.
"I think I understood 85 percent of what was on it," Heslop said. "And I just thought there was no point in taking that test. Because we don't need it to graduate."
Heslop knows that her school does care about the results of the MCA IIs. And math teachers at South High did more this year to try to prepare their students for the test.
Teacher Tara Fitzgerald -- or as her students call her, Miss Fitz -- said last year, teachers spent a week on the basics of the MCA II math test.
"I'm not sure we did a very good job as a department to tell them what to expect out of the test," said Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald said this time, teachers spread out the MCA II preparation over several months, and gave students a practice test.
"This year, we really kind of said, you're going to be taking it over two days, there's four parts to the test, these are the things you're going to see," Fitzgerald said. "And then we really stressed, although it's not important to your resume or your transcript, it's very important to the school's resume and transcript, and how people perceive us and how well we're doing as a school."
Fitzgerald said she hopes her school's math scores are better this year. State education officials want to see improvements statewide, and will release the results of the MCA IIs in July.
- Morning Edition, 05/01/2007, 7:50 a.m.