MANKATO — Mankato Area Public Schools was among several area districts in which students did not fare quite as well on state standardized test this year compared to last.
The largest area district still bested state averages, but some smaller districts in the region came in below average.
The Minnesota Department of Education released school accountability data Thursday, including how students performed on annual math and reading tests required at every public school in the state each spring. The math tests are taken by students in third through eighth grades and in 11th grade. The reading tests are given in third through eighth grades and in 11th grade.
One set of measurements gives pass-fail percentages on the tests and another is expanded to include students that aren’t passing but are close or are improving.
Across Minnesota, fewer students passed both the tests this spring than in 2018. In math, 54% of the state’s test takers met or exceeded proficiency targets, a dip of 2 percentage points. In reading, 58% hit or bested the target, down 1 percentage point.
Mankato’s pass rates mirrored that trend, said Mari Sievek, interim director of teaching and learning.
Just over 59% of Mankato students passed the math test, down nearly 4 percentage points. More than 64% passed reading, down a half percentage point.
A number of factors could be contributing to the dips in his district and across the state, Sievek said, and Mankato administrators and educators will be doing analysis.
Sievek said his team is pleased Mankato is consistently exceeding state averages, both in test scores and in other accountability measurements.
“Our community has a lot to celebrate here,” he said.
Many other area districts also had dips in their pass rates in both subjects, including Waseca, St. Clair and Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton.
Maple River again had the highest area pass rate in the region: 67% in both subjects. But that was down 5% in math and 1% in reading compared to last year.
Maple River Supt. Dan Anderson said he’s not concerned by a single-year dip while his district’s results hold strong compared to state norms.
“We’re still heading in the right direction,” he said.
Madelia is among the districts to come in below the state averages, but it had the biggest year-over-year gains in the region. Nearly 56% of Madelia students were proficient in reading, up 4 percentage points; and 52% were proficient in math, up 5 percentage points.
Madelia Junior-Senior High School Principal Allan Byer said his district doesn’t expect to best the state norms because it has a high number of immigrant students who are still learning English.
But he’s pleased to see his students are making progress. Expanded after-school homework help opportunities and a new reading support program for middle school students “on the bubble” are two possible contributors to the uptick, Byer said.
“We’re trying to get kids extra help when they need it,” he said.
Madelia Elementary School Principal Carol Wrightson said some of the efforts to boost achievement at her school have included early interventions for students in the co-located preschool programs, enhancements to the math curriculum and a new math club, and monthly staff meetings to review each student’s achievement data and plan supports.
The test progress measurement includes the percentage of students who bettered their test performance compared to last year, and those who continued to exceed, meet or “partially meet” targets.
Under this measurement, Madelia had the highest area rate in math at 71% and Cleveland was at the top in reading, also at 71%.
For some districts the data is broken down by race, economic status and other student demographic groups. To protect individual students’ privacy, the data isn’t published for many small schools and districts with only a few students in those subgroups.
Statewide the gaps between student groups remained relatively unchanged between 2018 and 2019, according to the education department.
Nearly 63% of Minnesota’s white students passed the math tests and nearly 67% passed reading, compared respectively to 26% and 34% of black students and 31% and 38% of Hispanic students.
There was a similar gap in Mankato: 67% of white students passed math and 71% passed reading, compared respectively to 25% and 35% of black students and 44% and 45% of Hispanic students.
Sievek noted that almost all of Mankato’s subgroups were besting state averages. Among its students from low-income families, 45% passed reading and 38% passed math, compared to 39% in reading and 33% in math statewide.
Sievek and Anderson also noted that the state standardized tests are one of just many assessments educators use to gauge student achievement and align curriculum to state standards.
“It’s a one-day snapshot of how our kids are doing,” Sievek said.
Other tools are used more frequently to monitor individual students’ progress and provide more immediate results that educators use to “meet the daily needs of the whole child,” Sivek said.
Other data points
The test scores were released Thursday along with other school data that was introduced last year as a requirement of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.
The “North Star accountability system” also tracks graduation rates, attendance rates and if students who aren’t native English speakers are improving their language proficiency.
The graduation and attendance rate indicators are based on 2017-2018, as last year’s data has not yet been calculated.
Graduation rates already were released to the public in April. The Mankato and St. Peter districts both boasted their highest on-time graduation rates in five years. All members of St. Clair’s Class of 2018 again graduated on time.
Rates dipped in some smaller area districts.
The graduation rates can fluctuate quite a bit in small districts where a late graduate or two can equate to several percentage points, noted Anderson, whose district came in second in the region this year.
Madelia had one of the lowest four-year graduation rates of 83%, which Byer again attributed to its large non-native population (19% are classified as English language learners). Many of his students start behind and need more time to earn a diploma, he said.
The attendance benchmark calculates the percentage of students who attended school at least 90% of the time. All area districts examined by The Free Press exceeded the state average of 85%.
Madelia had the highest local rate of 98%.
The district strives to create a welcoming environment that makes students want to come to school, Byer said. They also closely track attendance, reach out to parents of absent students, and when occasionally needed, summon absentee students to a truancy court hearing.
“We work hard on getting them here as much as they can,” Byer said.
The English language proficiency calculation sets a unique target for each non-native speaker.
In Mankato, 44% of non-native speakers met their target and in Madelia nearly 58% did. The state average was 40%.
Like other subgroups, data is not released for small schools and districts that only have a few language learners.
No new identifications
Last year nearly 350 schools were identified to receive additional state resources after landing at or near the bottom in one or more of the measurements. More than 500 schools were recognized for making progress on math, reading or English language tests or for high attendance or graduation rates.
No schools are being identified or recognized this year. The designations are based on three-year averages and are generally given out once every three years.