Scores on reading exams dip across the state and locally with newly aligned exam
by Jim Boyle
The Minnesota Department of Education released the results of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments on Aug. 27 — along with a couple caveats.
First off, the reading tests were made more challenging to align them to career and college readiness standards, according to Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius.
And secondly, she said, the math test was only given once, unlike last year when many students had up to three shots at it.
Not surprisingly, students didn’t do as well, and now districts like Elk River Area School District and charter schools like Spectrum Middle School and High School in Elk River will begin the process of assessing the new data and making adjustments in the hope that future scores will trend upward.
“We’re not disappointed in our students,” District 728 Director of Research and Assessment Joe Stangler said. “We know they did their best.
“And we’re not disappointed with our teachers. We know they did their best.”
Stangler went as far to sa that with all of the interventions, teachers did a better job than ever.
“Unfortunately, the change in the test does not reflect it,” he said.
District 728 overall scores ranked higher than state averages, and the results at individual schools also outpaced the state average, with the exception of Otsego Elementary School and Zimmerman Middle School on the reading tests and Zimmerman Middle School on the math tests.
Spectrum finished above state averages at all grade levels with one exception (seventh grade math had 47 percent of the group deemed proficient compared to the statewide average of 56 percent for seventh grade students.
In addition to being harder and more complex, the state reading tests included a higher cut standard, Cassellius said.
“These baseline scores will drive us to higher standards,” she said. “It would not be appropriate to compare last year’s test results to this year’s.”
Stangler said reading scores dropped roughly 20 percentage points in Elk River just like districts all over the state, and especially in districts of comparable demographics.
“Of the schools we compare ourselves to, we can see that they dropped by 19 to 20 to 21 percent,” he said.
Elk River Area School District administrators hailed last year’s test results issued in August of 2012 as “phenomenal” and a testimony that the processes in place to advance student learning in the district are working.
District 728, the eighth largest district in the state, outpaced the state average last school by more than 8 percent in math and 7 percent in reading last year on tests given to students in third through eighth grade.
As the state tests evolve from away from a high-stakes, sometimes punitive tool to more of an information source about career and college readiness, districts will have to adjust once again.
Stangler said the new reading tests will not have as much information to glean as their predecessors.
“That’s disappointing,” he said.
As a state, only 57 percent of more than 420,000 students who tested on the MCA-III reading tests made the grade, and 61 percent of the 360,266 who tested on the MCA-III math test made the grade.
Here in District 728 K-12 program, 62 percent of the 6,617 students who tested on the MCA-III reading exam made the cut.
Sixty-six percent of the 299 students in the 6-12 program at Spectrum who took them made the cut.
Meanwhile, 71 percent of the 5,722 Elk River Area School District’s students in the elementary and secondary grades who tested on the MCA-III math exam made the cut.
As for Spectrum, 56 percent of the 220 students in their middle school and high school program who took them made the cut.