New reports from the Minnesota Department of Education show little improvement — and some decline — across a number of key measures of the state’s schools, including test scores and attendance.
On Thursday, the department released the latest round of statewide test scores, along with a batch of other updated data the state uses to track schools’ performance.
The release also included a new “State of Our Students” report, in which state Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker said she sees promise in Minnesota students and called for using a “broader collection of data” to assess how well schools and students are doing, rather than narrowly focusing on test scores or any other single measure.
But an analysis of the full collection of data reveals limited progress in closing the state’s persistent achievement gaps or boosting proficiency in core academic subjects.
Reading scores on multiple statewide standardized tests — including the largest test, the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCAs — dropped, with about 58% of students meeting state standards.
In math, scores were down for the fourth straight year, with 54% of Minnesota students meeting state standards in the 2018-19 academic year. Meanwhile, every racial group saw a decline in students’ progress on test scores over time, and attendance rates declined for the majority of racial groups.
As all those measures dropped, however, graduation rates ticked upward among all student groups.
Ricker, who took over as the state’s top education official in January, said education leaders are shifting away from a past focus on test scores. Instead, they’ll give additional weight to other benchmarks, ranging from graduation rates and attendance to student participation in advanced-placement classes or the results of student surveys on bullying and emotional health.
She said that change is necessary to improve results and the likelihood of students’ success.
“We have to start by looking at things differently if we are going to do things differently,” Ricker said.
Gaps between racial groups remain across many of the measurements state leaders are considering. This year’s test scores, for example, show that 63% of white students met proficiency standards in math, compared with 26% of black and American Indian students.
Ricker said she intends to spend more time working on the challenges students face outside the classroom, such as disparities in housing, health care and income.
“I am committed to reimagining what education can be in the state of Minnesota,” she said.
Included in Thursday’s data release is an update to the state’s North Star accountability system, launched last year to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). That system tracks data across multiple measures and helps the state pinpoint struggling schools and provide them with more help. Last year, 485 schools — about a quarter of all schools in the state — were identified for low marks in one or more areas and told to launch a three-year plan to improve those results.
No new schools were added to that list this year, but all of the schools identified last year remain on it as they head into the second year of the three-year cycle.