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Continued: State standardized test scores show little change; achievement gap persists

In Minneapolis, 42 percent of students were proficient in reading, which did not increase compared to last year’s scores. In math, 44 percent of students were proficient, a 1 percent gain from last year.

Eleventh-graders saw the largest decreases in scores, with a 6 percent decrease in reading scores and a 10 percent decrease in math scores. Only 25 percent of Minneapolis eleventh-graders were proficient in math compared to 50 percent at the state level.

The district’s achievement gap continues to be one of the largest in the state. Its white students scored 50 percentage points more on their reading and math tests compared to black students. The district has vowed to address that gap by introducing the Office of Black Student Achievement this year.

Some schools have begun to see gains for black students. Math scores for black students at Northrop Elementary were up 21 percentage points compared to last year, while reading scores were up 14 percentage points.

“That shows that strong staff and leadership matter,” said Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson, adding that she will aim to replicate what schools like Northrop are doing.

In St. Paul, a mixed bag

The 2013-14 school year brought major changes to the St. Paul public schools, with two-year junior highs becoming three-year middle schools and students shifting to schools closer to home. That year of transition helped produce mixed results.

Overall, 38 percent of St. Paul students were proficient in reading, a 1-percentage-point gain, but math scores saw a 2-percentage-point decline, with 42 percent of students being proficient.

The achievement gap was unchanged in math at 45 percentage points, but it widened to 48 percent in reading as the percentage of white students who tested proficient grew by 2 percentage points, while the percentage of black students who were proficient stood at 25 percent — the same as in 2012-13.

The structural changes brought about by the Strong Schools, Strong Communities strategic plan resulted in 40 percent of students being on the move from 2012-13 to 2013-14, compared with 31 percent and 32 percent in the two previous years, and periods of transition typically bring with them a dip in test results, said Christine Osorio, the district’s chief academic officer.

Looking ahead, she said, the district should benefit from stability in the grade configurations, as well as early intervention efforts with sixth-graders who are struggling.

MCAs’ value questioned

While the MCAs are important in measuring student performance, they don’t carry the weight they once did. Under the No Child Left Behind law, math and reading proficiency measured by the MCAs determined which schools were branded failures and forced to improve.

Minnesota, however, was freed from the federal law in early 2012 and rolled out a more nuanced accountability system for schools that same year. With the waiver in place, education officials have tried to reform Minnesota’s current testing regime by scrapping high-stakes tests for high school students and replacing them with ones that gauge whether a student is ready for college or a career.

Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, the statewide teachers union, questioned the MCAs’ value. “I’m conflicted when people talk about rising test scores,” she said. “It’s nice for educators to get a pat on the back, but they are being complimented for building better bubble fillers, which is a terrible goal for a school system.”


Staff writers Erin Adler, Anthony Lonetree and Alejandra Matos contributed to this report. Kim McGuire • 612-673-4469

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