The puzzle piece is just too blurry to help complete the picture at this stage.
For teachers this year, that imperfect piece is the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments. The MCA tests were administered during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is like taking that puzzle-box photo and crushing it so no one knows what the real picture looks like.
Educators fully expected students’ performance on the reading, math and science tests to dip because of numerous recent challenges, including shifts in models between in-person, distance or hybrid learning, unequal access to technology and mental health concerns. Their fears came to fruition: Statewide proficiency rates dropped to 44% in math, 44% in science and 53% in reading. Compared to 2019, that’s a drop of 11 percentage points in math, 8 percentage points in science and 7 percentage points in reading.
To complicate matters, 20 percent of eligible students didn’t take the tests, and no tests were administered in 2020 because of the pandemic. Therefore, the last results are from 2019. So comparing apples to apples isn’t possible with the fresh results.
Minnesota isn’t alone in this predicament, of course. Schools across the country are grappling with the same academic achievement and mental health issues. Of course, getting kids into schools and keeping them there safely is the best way to get back on track, and that’s why vaccination and mask decisions are being made by school boards. Community members can support students by recognizing that.
Instead of focusing on what the MCA results can’t tell us, it makes more sense to use them in the larger context of what other measurements and factors — such as absenteeism, testing that offers immediate feedback and graduation rates — should be taken into account to more clearly assess student progress.
The MCA test results do confirm, just like previous results have, that students of color and low-income students are farther behind. So intense focus in that area should be a given for the majority of districts.
The Minnesota Department of Education has introduced a statewide initiative meant to help students recover from sliding backward. The Collaborative Minnesota Partnerships to Advance Student Success, or COMPASS, will coordinate additional training for teachers and school administrators working with students trying to make up ground in reading, math or social and emotional skills. The school community and parents need to understand that a team effort will be needed to help every child reach the heights they are capable of.
Instead of focusing on fitting in that imperfect puzzle piece, educators will need to draw more pieces from the box to keep working on the big picture of how to help students regain their learning momentum as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.