The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 2, 2012

Area districts perform below state average on new science test

By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — Well over half of 29 southern Minnesota school districts scored below the state average on the new version of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments science test in all three grade levels tested.

Click here for results for Mankato area schools

That includes Mankato Area Public Schools, which scored just below the state averages among the fifth and eighth grades, with high schools coming in at the state average on the annual test. (The percentage of proficiency for eighth grade was within the margin of error.)

Cindy Amoroso, director of curriculum instruction for Mankato schools, said she can’t definitively point to the new version of the test as the reason for what some may consider to be low statewide scores. She said the new version may be more difficult than the last, or perhaps districts’ curriculums simply aren’t aligned yet to the new state standards, among other reasons.

Amoroso said the Mankato district is using these test results as a baseline for comparisons for future results. Because the test is new this year, she can’t compare the results to any previous years’ trends.

“We do not compare old to new because our accountability is to those new standards,” she said. “All our resources are going into those standards.”

New science curriculum has been implemented in Mankato schools this year. Once students in lower grades have had several years to move through the new curriculum at different grade levels, there will be a “cumulative effect” and the scores will continue to improve, Amoroso said.

“We’re excited in Mankato because of the changes we’ve made,” she said.

Fifth-graders performed the best in most districts. The state average was 57.6 percent proficient, and more than half of fifth-graders in many area districts were deemed proficient. More than 70 percent of Springfield, St. Clair and Waseca fifth-graders were proficient.

Only one grade in one district was deemed higher than 80 percent proficient. Belle Plaine fifth-graders were 86.4 percent proficient on the test. Supt. Kelly Smith said he views the fifth-grade scores of Oak Crest Elementary school as wonderful, and he and Oak Crest Principal Liann Hanson are pleased with the efforts of the staff and students.

“We celebrated with our staff and students during an ‘All School Meeting,’” Hanson said via email. “I credit the great scores to our teachers and our students.”

Hanson said the teachers have been working to align the school’s curriculum with state standards. Hanson said she doesn’t think the MCA science test is more difficult than the math or reading tests.

“I think there is more emphasis on reading and math at times in schools, and science may get put on the back burner,” she said. “Our teachers make sure that science continues to be engaging and relevant ... and aligned with the science standards.”

Results indicate eighth-graders in southern Minnesota had the most difficulty with the test. The state average was 42 percent, and 20 area school districts’ eighth-graders didn’t reach that marker.

Mankato eighth-graders were 39.3 percent proficient. Numerous districts’ eighth-graders were 29 percent proficient or below. Sleepy Eye eighth-graders were 19.1 percent proficient, and St. James came in at 17.3 percent proficient.

Sleepy Eye Supt. John Cselovszki said it’s been difficult to find supplemental materials to prepare kids for the science test. But the district has a new curriculum in place, and fifth-grade scores already have begun to improve.

“We hope to see further improvement with our science scores as the years come,” he said.

St. James Supt. Becky Cselovszki said students have more difficulty with the test partly because there is no online practice test in science like there is for reading and math. And students who struggle with reading also might struggle with the science test, Cselovszki inferred.

“I also think, like math, that the test is a science test, but the vocabulary also makes it a reading test,” she said. “I also believe schools have put an emphasis on reading and math, as that is what the state rates us on at this time.”

Cselovszki said the St. James district has been revising its curriculum and working to align it with state standards.