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For schools, math scores jump over those from a year ago

Math scores statewide improved at nearly every grade level while reading scores were little changed in the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments scores released this week by the Minnesota Department of Education.

The state uses the tests to gauge student proficiency in math and reading from grades 3 to 11.

It also administers tests in reading, writing and math which students must pass in order to earn their high school diplomas.

More than 426,000 students in the state took the MCA-II tests in math and reading in the spring. Test results were released earlier this week to schools and to media outlets. They are being released to the public today.

The majority of students in area school districts passed the graduation tests they took in the spring. Those who didn't pass will have a chance to retake the tests before graduating.

The writing grad test is given in ninth grade, the reading test in 10th grade and the math test in 11th grade.

In the case of the math test, students who do not pass the test after several tries but do complete the required math coursework are still allowed to graduate.

Danith Clausen, Willmar School District director of curriculum and instruction, said Willmar students have historically done well on the writing test.

This year, about 85 percent of those who took the test passed it. "I think we have a lot of writing in the curriculum all the way through," she said.

The test results indicate that some of the district's initiatives are having an impact, she said.

For example, middle school students have longer math and communications classes on alternating days. "I'm seeing things show up at the middle school that I think is the result of the extended time they are spending on reading and math," Clausen said.

Clausen said the test results are one of many ways state school districts assess their students.

"We take these and we look at them very seriously," she said.

The MCA-II test is a snapshot of the students on one day, while other tests are used to show growth from fall to spring in a school year.

According to a news release from the Department of Education, reading scores stayed relatively constant for most grades and 11th-grade results increased for the second year.

Grade 10 reading scores have improved 10 percentage points since 2006, with most of the gains coming after the high-stakes graduation requirement started in 2008.

After significant gains in 2009, the grade 11 math results were just a little higher this year.

"The hard work of students, parents and teachers in our statewide focus on math is really starting to pay off with these steadily improving test results in elementary and middle school," Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said in the release. "Today's results also show what happens when we raise expectations for our high school students and hold them accountable for their efforts in reading by requiring a certain level of proficiency for graduation."

According to the state, minority students made significant gains in some grades, but since all scores improved, there's little indication that the state made progress on closing the achievement gap. The Department of Education is scheduled to release Adequate Yearly Progress results based on the MCA scores in early August. Adequate Yearly Progress is the measure of student performance under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Beginning today, state and local data are available at

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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