The MCA-III tests scores released by the MDE Wednesday

By Tina SnellStaff Writer

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) released the data on the MCA-III tests taken in the spring. These tests showed student performance in math and reading in grades three-eight and 10, along with graduate standards in writing, reading and math.

Statewide, the average proficiency in math for all grades decreased from 62 percent in 2008 to 61.3 percent in 2012. But, the scores increased nearly 5 percent from 2011.

Math proficiency in 2008 for students in 11th grade was at its all-time low at 34.4 percent. While this year there was an average of 41.8 percent of the juniors proficient in math, that was more than a 6 percent drop from last year.

Students will soon (2015) be required to pass the 11th grade math test before they are able to graduate.

To graduate now, students are required to pass statewide reading and writing tests.

The average proficiency in reading has climbed steadily since 2008, reaching 75.3 percent this year.

In 10th grade, reading proficiency has increased each year except for a slight decline in 2011, from 70.8 percent in 2008, to 76.4 percent this year.

The MDE said that during the 2011-12 school year, most students in the state took the math test online. It feels the testing was more consistently implemented across the state. Also, it said students’ comfort with technology translated into more positive responses to those tests.

The increase in reading scores comes two years after the adoption of a more rigorous 2010 reading standards program, as well as a strategic focus on reading well by third grade, a program spearheaded by Gov. Mark Dayton and Commissioner Brenda Cassellius.

Later in August, the MDE will release information showing how individual schools are doing in areas of proficiency and progress in closing the achievement gap.

Supt. Gene Harthan from Swanville said his administration is fairly well satisfied with the reading scores for the elementary students.

“They have now made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) three years in a row,” he said. “But, the seventh and eighth grade reading scores are disappointing.”

“I’m not sure Minnesota’s new Multiple Measurements Rating (MMR) is any better than the old AYP system,” Harthan said. “Swanville Elementary has now made AYP three years in a row, but their MMR score from the spring of 2011 was not that good. The high school’s AYP scores have not been as good, but they scored better on the 2011 MMR. My theory is that since the elementary has been meeting its target goals, the room for improvement is not that great, where the high school has shown more growth. The elementary received a certificate in the spring of 2012 commending their improvement in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, yet according to their MMR score, it looked like they had not improved that much. The elementary students have worked very hard over the last four years to make improvements in reading, and will continue to so in both reading and math.”

Supt. George Weber from Pierz said, “Overall Pierz performed very well.  Looking at grades three – eight which took the new MCA-III math test, Pierz scored higher than the state average in every grade.  I am so proud of our teachers for work they do in our math program.  The district has so many very good teachers in its system.

“I also am proud of the students for their efforts as well,” he said. “It is challenging to take a computerized test and many students struggle with the focus and attention of a long exam.”

Weber went on to say that Pierz outperformed the state in reading as well, but not across the board. “The district has many great readers, it’s doing well with the numbers of students reading from five – 20 additional books for pleasure each year in addition to their class work,” he said.

“We will evaluate some of the more specific items such as inference, main idea and application of reading strategies that will assist the students in even higher scores on the reading exams,” said Weber.

“I think overall we are doing very well. When one compares our region of Minnesota to the state average, there are many factors to consider,” said Weber. “We spend about $2,000 less per pupil than the state average, have a much lower local tax rate and have a higher percentage of free and reduced students. Yet our results still match or beat the state in most areas. Again that is a testament to our teachers, principals, all staff, parents and students  who make Pierz a strong unified school system.”

Weber said that the district will continue to expand its high tech offerings and college courses as well as evaluate more strategies to build student skills.

In Little Falls, 21st Century Learning Director Barb Muckenhirn said the district is very proud of the students who took the high school grad writing test. The scores increase from 87.9 percent in 2011 to 91.6 percent this year.

“The MCA-III tests are not significantly different from before, they have just aligned to the new state standards,” she said. She also said that since the state changes the tests regularly, she would like to see ones implemented that are consistent and useful to the district

Muckenhirn said the administration is also pleased with Lindbergh Elementary School’s progress. It had not met AYP for the past four years and was entering into sanctions.

“But, it met the AYP standards in both math and reading this year,” she said. “We are proud of our schools and their results. We don’t expect a perfect score. The tests show us where work is needed, without ignoring other courses.”

Muckenhirn said the state allows multiple testing for the MCA-III math tests for grades three – eight. A change she would like to see is same option for the reading tests.