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State test scores indicate improvement in math

In this undated photo, Andrew Flolo shakes dice during his first round of the game Bunco at Roosevelt Elementary School in Willmar. Volunteers were teaching the game as a means to help the students improve on their math skills by adding numbers quickly. Tribune photo

WILLMAR — Minnesota’s students scored better than last year in state standardized tests in math but not quite as well in science.

The kids took reading tests, too, but those scores can’t be compared, because the test was new this year.

The days of frequent changes in standards and test styles should be over, at least for now.

Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius said Monday morning that the state is in a position to keep its tests and academic standards steady for 10 years or more.

Cassellius spoke in a conference call with journalists about today’s release of Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment scores, a series of tests taken by students in grades 3-8 and in high school.

The test results released are a step toward the state’s annual analysis of the progress schools and students have made in the past year. In early October, the Multiple Measurement Ratings will be released, a measure of student growth and achievement gaps in the state’s schools.

For a decade, students have taken the state tests, part of the No Child Left Behind education law. Schools have been judged on how well their students do.

Cassellius said the 2013 reading test is more rigorous than the previous one, and the state expected to see fewer students proficient at the skills it requires. Reading and English standards are aligned with the Common Core standards adopted by most of the states in the country.

“We don’t want to continue to change the targets,” she said. “Let’s let our teachers get used to the standards we have. They are excellent.”

The quality of the state’s teachers and schools is clear in nation-leading ACT scores for the past eight years, she said.

Shifting standards and tests have made it difficult to adjust so often to new, higher expectations, Cassellius said.

If the state uses the same assessments for a longer time, trends are likely to emerge, and schools should be able to better address the needs of their students, she said.

Cassellius said she thinks the state’s expectations for its students are at the right level now, and she does not want to see standards raised to unrealistic levels.

Statewide scores went up in all grades in math over 2011 scores, though down a bit from 2012. Students were given three chances to take the test in 2012 and could use the best score. This year, students were allowed to take the test just once. In general, math scores have been trending upward for several years, she said.

A persistent achievement gap is still obvious in the statewide test results. Though some scores may be up, “there’s certainly not enough change in students of color,” Cassellius said.

When it comes to achievement gaps, the scores of American Indian, Hispanic and Black students lagged behind scores of white and Asian/Pacific Islander students. In every test, white students as a group score the best. The lowest scores among all categories were for special education and English Language Learner students.

Willmar Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said Willmar students scored higher on tests this year than last in general. At the elementary level, students showed a higher level of proficiency.

Both schools have wide achievement gaps and are among a number of state schools under state orders to make changes. Internal testing showed that many students made strong academic progress in the past year, he said.

“As I look at it, I’m overall satisfied,” he said. “I’m not at all smug; we still have work to do, but I think the stuff we’re doing is working.” When the MMR information is released in October, he said, he thinks parents and the community will be pleased.

The Legislature also made changes in the exams for older students. A series of tests required for graduation were scrapped.

Tests for older students will gauge their knowledge and interests.

The tests have been developed in cooperation with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, and the results will be accepted by MnSCU schools for admissions and placement, Cassellius said.

“We think they will be more useful,” she said, because previous graduation tests meant little to colleges.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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