Big gains for some students' standardized test resultsby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota's MCA test results are being released today, offering an annual snapshot of how the state's school children are fairing.
Like every year, there are winners and losers.
State education commissioner Alice Seagren said math improvements in elementary and middle school scores may mean that summer teacher academies held around the state since 2008 could be getting some traction in the classroom, and may carry through to the high school years.
In the long term, 10th grade reading scores have risen 10 percent since the MCA-II test became the statewide standard in 2006.
But the gap between white and minority students in the state persists in double-digit percentage differences. Less than half of the state's black students, for instance, are passing the 10th grade reading test on the first try.
Two districts, though, have special reason to pore over the results this year.
In St. Paul, administrators had promised double digit improvements across the board for this year's results. Instead, the overall math scores were up by about 3 percent and reading scores were flat.
"Are we disappointed? Yes," said Suzanne Kelly, who is Superintendent Valeria Silva's chief of staff and was the interim superintendent when the goal was set. "I would say we are disappointed that we did not reach the 10 percentage point goal or bar that we set for ourselves."
But she didn't apologize for the shortcoming.
"We set that high bar because we recognize that this isn't about the numbers on the page," Kelly said. "But each of these percentage points, if you will, represent children and we really wanted to make sure that we were doing all we could and focusing our efforts on getting as many children over the bar of proficiency as we could."
She said district officials hoped that a reading curriculum change and a reading and writing workshop initiative would get wider participation and better results over time. The district recruited hundreds of new volunteers to help with reading and got staff to focus on the issue.
But Kelly also noted that the district has been grappling with tens of millions of dollars in budget cuts, and even school closures, at the same time.
In northwestern Minnesota, the Fertile-Beltrami schools, with just over 400 students, got some good news.
Last year, only a third of the district's 11th graders passed the math test. But the high school nearly doubled that number this year: 63 percent of the juniors were proficient or better on the graduation-level math test.
"You know you've got things in the works, and you're looking at whatever data you can get your hands on to see if what you're doing for your students in the classroom is effective," Superintendent Brian Clarke said after he saw the results. "But those are wow results. We're very pleased."
They also posted better than double-digit gains on the 10th grade reading test.
"Where we really saw a big boost this year is really a concerted effort by our elementary staff and our title coordinator, implementing some new program strategies," Clarke said. "We made some investments in software to help do some skill building for guided reading groups. In the high school, it was just a lot of interventions that individual teachers have done to focus on literacy in the classroom."
Overall, the state's math results were up about 2.4 percent. Grades 4, 5 and 6 saw the best improvements in math. The reading test results remained mostly flat, although there was a dip in the third and fourth graders who were considered proficient.