For south metro schools, the results of this year’s statewide standardized tests aren’t likely to produce the frustrated sighs they did last year, when a new reading test resulted in average scores plunging almost 20 percentage points.
But the results are unlikely to produce many cheers, either. In Dakota and Scott County, most districts’ scores stayed steady or increased by a percentage point or two.
One exception was Shakopee, which saw a 5 percentage-point gain in overall reading proficiency.
Local scores on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) mirrored statewide results, which remained the same as in 2013 or went up slightly.
The tests measure students’ ability to meet benchmarks in math, reading and science. They are also used to monitor the progress of schools and districts, tracking their improvement and holding them accountable.
Scores varied widely among south-of-the-river districts, ranging from a low of 51 percent reading proficiency in South St. Paul to a high of 79 percent math proficiency in Prior Lake-Savage.
Results also highlight a persistent challenge across the state and in south metro schools — the achievement gap between the test scores of students of color, especially black and Hispanic students, and whites.
Gaps range widely, as do districts’ overall ethnic diversity, making direct comparisons difficult.
For instance, in Farmington there’s just 11 percentage points between white and black students’ reading scores. However, only about 110 black students took the tests.
While there is a 40-point difference between white and Hispanic students’ math scores in Shakopee, the district had almost 500 Hispanic test-takers, a significant group of them just learning English.
In Minneapolis, the gap between white and black test-takers in both math and reading is 50 points. In St. Paul, it is 45 points for math and 48 points in reading.
Standardized test scores like the MCAs “shine a light on the problem” of the achievement gap, said Daniel Sellers, executive director of MinnCan, an education reform group.
Officials from the six districts consulted all acknowledged the achievement gap and said they were working to improve things.
The challenge of comparing
With such variation in diversity, socioeconomics and size, it can be hard to compare one district’s scores to the next.
And simply measuring growth within a district year-to-year has been challenging, because last year the new, more difficult reading test was introduced. In 2012, students had the chance to take the math test multiple times and a new science test was launched.
On top of that, last year the MCAs were administered online for the first time.