Washington County students are consistent when it comes to state standardized test results, and for most of them, that’s a good thing.
Students in five districts — South Washington County, Stillwater, White Bear Lake, Forest Lake and Mahtomedi — outperformed their state peers in all three subject areas of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) exams again in 2015.
The exception was the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District, which for a fifth straight year saw students lag behind their state counterparts in science and reading results.
But that district, the county’s most diverse, joined Mahtomedi and Forest Lake in keeping its math proficiency fairly steady between 2014 and 2015.
Statewide, 60.2 percent of students tested proficient in math. North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale matched that 60.2 percent proficiency rate while Mahtomedi finished atop local districts in math proficiency at 84.8 percent, state data shows.
In South Washington County, the area’s largest district with 17,808 students, Superintendent Keith Jacobus said that “close reading” — a new teaching strategy which has students reading a complex, grade-level text multiple times for different purposes — appeared to have contributed to a 2 percent rise in reading proficiency to 69.6 percent.
“Our results in literacy, although a modest increase, demonstrate the effectiveness of our professional development, focus on instructional excellence and [are] a testament to the quality educators who work in this district,” he said in a statement.
In its analysis, South Washington County noted a “particularly strong increase” at the fifth-grade level, with 78.5 percent of students testing proficient in reading.
The MCAs, taken annually by hundreds of thousands of students from elementary to high school, are used to chart the progress of schools and districts. This fall, the state Department of Education will again rate schools based on how well they address the achievement gap between white and minority students, graduation rates, academic growth and proficiency.
Last year, two area schools — Crestview Elementary in the South Washington County district and Central Montessori Elementary in the Forest Lake district — landed in a category for schools that have difficulties overcoming achievement gap concerns.
Those so-called “focus” schools saw some positive signs this year, however.
While math proficiency at Crestview Elementary decreased by 1.7 percent from its 2014 level to 46.6 percent in 2015, the Cottage Grove school saw a 5.2 percentage point gain from the previous year in reading proficiency (47.3 percent of students). About 40 percent of Crestview students are from minority groups, compared with about 28 percent of students districtwide.
At Central Montessori Elementary in Forest Lake, math proficiency jumped from 45.7 percent to 62.1 percent and reading proficiency from 60.5 percent to 65.5 percent. Like the Forest Lake district, Central Montessori Elementary is overwhelmingly white, but it has a higher percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
Mahtomedi has fewer challenges than most districts, with just 9 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches, and it remains a powerhouse on the testing front, with 84.8 percent of students proficient in math and 82.6 percent in reading.
Of the remaining five districts, Stillwater finished highest in both math and reading proficiency at 69.7 percent and 71.9 percent, respectively.