Fewer than half of Minnesota students pass new statewide science testsby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
Fewer than half of the students who took Minnesota's first statewide science test got passing marks. Officials with the state Department of Education said the results were disappointing.
St. Paul, Minn. — Nearly 200,000 kids in grades five, eight and in various years of high school, took the new test last spring. It was the newest addition to the state's battery of standardized tests, which already includes math and reading.
The online test broke new ground as Minnesota's interactive, computer-based test was the first in the nation. State officials said the administration and scoring of the test went smoothly.
But in the first year, only 40 percent of the students taking the test passed.
Deputy Education Commissioner Chas Anderson said state officials were hoping Minnesota's school kids would do better.
"The department is disappointed with the results, although this is the first year of administration and it does take time to put in a new assessment," Anderson said. "It showed lower than what was expected for proficiency for all students. It shows an achievement gap between white students and other subgroups of students, so we know more work needs to be done."
The test results included some other surprises, as well. Unlike most tests, students in high grades did better than kids in lower grades. Forty-three percent of high school kids passed the test, versus 38 percent of eighth graders and 39 percent of fifth graders.
The science results also contrast with recent scores on other tests. Results from the state's traditional reading and math tests showed a slight improvement this spring, and some encouraging progress among minority students.
Just last week, officials also announced that Minnesota topped the nation's scores on the ACT, the college entrance exam taken by most graduating seniors in the state.
But there are some key differences in the new science test. Both schools and students have less at stake with the science test.
For schools, the results don't count in key calculations of annual progress that can result in federal sanctions. And for students, it isn't a graduation requirement, like the reading and math tests.
That may play a role in how seriously students and teachers prepare for the test.
It's also the first time the test had been administered online, and new tests are notoriously difficult.
"The first year of any new test, the test scores are likely to be probably the lowest you'll see, just because teachers are still trying to get familiar with the tests, students are still trying to get familiar with the tests," Anderson said. "It's online, so that adds another dynamic. They're used to taking it using paper and pencil and now they're taking it online."
In the Anoka Hennepin school district, students actually tried out the test last year, as part of a pilot program.
The district's science teaching specialist, Randy Smasal, said the district has already been able to make some adjustments that showed promise on the science test and in science education.
"At our elementary level specifically, we're looking at a specialization program, where we have teachers specifically teaching math and science," Smasal said. "We've already started that, And one of the things that we've noticed is that the schools that have moved to a specialization model, many of those schools were many of our top performing schools, so that's kind of an interesting piece that we need to explore a little more deeply."
The students will take the tests again in April. State officials hope it will set a benchmark that will help keep science education in Minnesota globally competitive.
- Morning Edition, 08/19/2008, 6:49 a.m.