The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 27, 2013

Reading scores take dive statewide

More rigorous standards affect MCA results


The Mankato Free Press

---- — MANKATO — Usually, students taking the annual Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment test perform better on the reading portion than the math.

But the new rigorous state reading standards — adopted to help ensure college- and career-readiness — resulted in big reading score declines in this year's results, released today by the Minnesota Department of Education. The new English Language Arts standards include more complex problems to teach students “how to effectively communicate and to use related knowledge and contexts to synthesize information into meaningful messages,” according to MDE.

District-wide, Mankato Area Public Schools scored above the state average at all grade levels in both reading and math. However, nine individual schools had grade levels that scored below the state average in reading.

“We understood that it was possible we would see a dip statewide,” said Heather Mueller, director of teaching and learning, who added that teachers and administrators have been working on implementing the new standards into classrooms since last year.

“With this level of rigor, it's going to take time,” said Gwen Walz, assessment coordinator.

The MCA test results break down proficiency in math and reading, beginning with grade 3. The test factors greatly into determining a school's Multiple Measurements Rating, which is the assessment criteria under the state's No Child Left Behind waiver.

The ratings — which include points based on proficiency, student growth, closure in achievement gap and graduation rate — will be released in early October. The MCA results influence all categories except for graduation rate.

Among Mankato schools, many schools had grades that scored in the 80th percentage bracket or above in math, and only a couple of schools had grade levels below 60 percent proficient. The opposite was true for reading, with various schools having one or more grade levels averaging below 60 percent proficient. Only two schools had grade levels with more than 80 percent proficiency in reading — Bridges Community School and Eagle Lake Elementary.

Bridges performed the best in the district, with fourth-graders 100 percent proficient in math; and third- and fifth-graders both 90.9 percent proficient in math. The school also performed well in reading, despite the more difficult standards, with third-graders coming in at 95.5 percent proficient and fifth-graders 90.9 percent proficient. (Last year the school's fifth-graders were 100 percent proficient in reading.)

“We just keep focusing on math and reading and especially catching them early,” said Bridges Lead Teacher Robin Courrier, who added that the strong reading scores could be attributed to the school's more advanced reading curriculum, which includes more non-fiction than is typical.

Still, she said, “The test is a one-hit wonder. It's the day; it's the timing.” Coupled with the more rigorous reading standards, that could explain last year's fifth-graders going from 100 percent proficient in reading to 83.3 percent now that they're in sixth grade.

Walz said district officials don't look at individual school results, but rather focus on accountability for all students.

“Our perspective is from the district perspective,” Walz said. “We look at that whole picture. … We continue to be notably above the state average in all grade levels.”

The big-picture perspective allows the district to be proactive when it comes to aligning curriculum to new standards, she said. Mueller said teachers and administrators are continuously working together — including during two-hour late starts for Professional Learning Community time each month — to ensure all students are learning.

Among other top performers, Maple River East Elementary School fourth-graders were 100 percent proficient in math, while most other grades tested in Maple River came in below 80 percent proficient in both math and reading. The exceptions were West Elementary fourth-graders, who were 87.5 percent proficient in math; and East third-graders, who were 82.6 percent proficient in math.

Overall regionally, several rural districts had grade levels that struggled in both reading and math. Truman seventh-graders were 14.3 percent proficient in reading and 10th-graders were 30 percent proficient.

Butterfield-Odin eighth-graders were 14.2 percent proficient in math; and fourth-, sixth- and seventh-graders all scored in the 30th percentage bracket or below in math. The district's eighth-graders were 15.4 percent proficient in reading.

Butterfield-Odin Supt. Lisa Shellum and Truman Supt. Thomas Ames couldn't be reached Monday.

To view a district's or school's results, go to the Department of Education website at http://education.state.mn.us, click on the Data Center at the top-right of the page, and click on “Data for Parents and Educators” at the top of the page.