Standardized test results released today show area schools improved slightly in reading and math, and the state at large remains at levels comparable with last year’s results.
Locally, Mankato Area Public Schools and other districts performed above the state averages on the MCA-II tests in reading and math for many grade levels and surpassed last year’s performance as well.
“At most grade levels, we have made progress moving students to higher levels of proficiency,” said Gwen Walz, testing coordinator for Mankato Area Public Schools. “In most grades, we have a greater percentage of students meeting proficiency than the state. We know this is an area of continued improvement.”
St. Peter, Nicollet and New Ulm, among others, also saw MCA-II scores above the state averages.
“Reading continues to be our strength,” New Ulm Public Schools Supt. Harold Remme said. “We’ve done very well in six grade levels where we’re above the state average. Math scores were good as well, except for grade 11.”
Given the volume of data, most districts contacted by The Free Press said they simply hadn’t had the proper time to examine the numbers to provide an in-depth analysis. Most said they’d only been able to look briefly at the results.
“We didn’t do too bad,” said Todd Meyer, superintendent of Nicollet Public Schools. “We ended up finishing higher than the state average. Some of our grade levels did really well, some were just below the state average. We’re continuing to work on that and be sure the kids are doing the best they can.”
St. Peter Public Schools Supt. Jeff Olson said his district was only just now digging into the data to see how St. Peter’s students did.
“It looks like we’re doing better in some of our areas that we focused on, particularly in senior high math scores,” Olson said. “And we think our new reading program is starting to make a difference at the K-8 level. We’re encouraged by our progress.”
From a state averages perspective, every grade level outperformed the previous year in math. The state’s Department of Education partially attributes that to the fact many English language learners — predominantly immigrants — were allowed to take a version of the math test that removed language as a major barrier to success.
Conversely, the performance of those same students on the reading test may have contributed to the dip in statewide reading proficiency averages. Last year, those students were allowed to take a version of the test tailored to their English ability. For this year’s test, however, the U.S. Department of Education prohibited the use of such tests, and that group of MCA-II test takers performed slightly worse than the year before.
All the fuss over the MCA-II tests has to do with the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Schools must perform well or their districts risk having to spend thousands of dollars to rectify learning problems. Consistent problems can result in a school being placed on the government’s list of schools not making “adequate yearly progress.”
Failure to improve could result in districts busing students to other schools in their district that are performing well.
And when it comes to not performing well, no group should be more concerned than the 11th-graders. While their math scores are up slightly, they remain extremely low. Statewide, just 32 percent of the state’s 11th-graders showed proficiency.
That test, introduced last year, was infused with a higher degree of difficulty, including advanced algebra and trigonometry.
The change in testing is part of a transition that started last year, and educators say they’re bracing for what they fear could be large numbers of students whose graduation is in jeopardy.
Ninth-grade students are now required to pass a new series of tests to graduate. Instead of the Basic Skills Tests in eighth grade and a writing test in 10th grade — the previous graduation requirement — students must pass a writing test in ninth grade, a reading test in 10th grade and a math test in 11th grade.
Both the reading and math tests cover more material and are more challenging than the Basic Skills Test. If students don’t pass the tests on their first try, they also will have less time to retake them. In the case of the new math test, students only have one year to retest, pass and graduate on time.
The MCA-IIs are just one of the tests students deal with throughout their school year. Most area districts also take the NWEA test. Educators say that, while the NWEA doesn’t meet the standards set up by No Child Left Behind, it gives a much better picture of a student’s proficiency.
It also gives results immediately. The MCA-II scores released this week came from tests taken in April. And coming in August, the Department of Education will announce, based on these test results, which schools will be on the list of schools not making adequate yearly progress.
Said Meyer, Nicollet’s superintendent, “It’s unfortunate that they put so much into one set of tests.”
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