State standardized test scores show little change; achievement gap persists

Results also show that the achievement gap persists.

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Fourth-grade teacher Laurie Johnson helped Tamia Whittaker Shipp, left, and Samiya Womack, right, with their classwork Monday at Friendship Academy of the Arts Charter School in Minneapolis.

Photo: ELIZABETH FLORES • eflores@startribune.com,

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Minnesota students showed little overall improvement in reading, math or science, according to the latest batch of results from statewide, standardized tests taken by nearly 500,000 elementary and high school students this spring.

In math, 61 percent of students were proficient, the same as in 2013, according to the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments results released early Tuesday. Scores also were unchanged in science at 53 percent proficiency for high school students, while 61 percent of fifth-graders and 45 percent of eighth-graders were considered proficient.

While math and science scores remained stagnant, there was a glimmer of good news in reading scores: they rose slightly one year after they had plunged almost 20 percentage points following a change in state academic standards.

Statewide, 59 percent of students were found proficient in reading. Last year, 57 percent were considered proficient, down sharply from 76 percent in 2012.

The MCAs, taken annually by thousands of students from elementary to high school, are used to chart the progress of schools and districts and to monitor school improvement and accountability.

Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said the largely flat results are indicative of the state’s stringent academic standards, which are grooming students for either college or a career. Last week, Minnesota students posted the highest ACT scores in the nation for the ninth year in a row. “We are seeing steady improvement in student achievement. The trend line is up, and that’s progress,” Cassellius said. “This kind of change is exactly what we hope to see as our teachers master how to best teach our tougher standards, so each student approaches the test confident and fully prepared.”

But the MCA scores also showed that another challenge endures. The achievement gap between white and minority students continues, despite some recent strong showings on other standardized tests by elementary-age black students.

In math, for example, black students tested in grades 3 through 8 were 35 percent proficient, compared to 71 percent for white students. In reading, the disparity was just as stark — 33 percent proficiency for black students and 67 percent for white students.

The state has pledged it will cut the achievement gap in half by 2017.

“I think we can say that no one in this community is happy with where [the achievement gap] is at,” said Jonathan May, director of data and research for Generation Next, a Twin Cities group working to eliminate racial disparities in education.

Reading rebound?

Cassellius said the slight uptick in reading scores was about what she expected.

In 2010, Minnesota adopted what is widely known as Common Core standards for reading, with some modifications. In general, those standards require students to read increasingly more difficult texts as they progress through grades and to demonstrate that they understand what they’re reading by either writing about it or through classroom discussions. The state Department of Education expected a decrease in reading scores and even sent a letter to parents warning them of a likely slide.

This year, reading scores were expected to rebound, but how much was anyone’s guess.

“At least we didn’t go down,” said Jim Bartholomew, education policy director for the Minnesota Business Partnership.

Others pushing for education reform in Minnesota said they hope the state maintains consistent academic standards.

“We need to stop moving the goalpost,” said Daniel Sellers, executive director of MinnCAN, a group pushing for education reform. “For us the best news is that we finally have some consistency to compare. So that’s a positive about this year — we can now look at the data and determine what the best policies are for kids.”

Minneapolis’ results

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