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Area school districts on par with state average test scores

Minnesota students’ math and reading proficiency test results released this week showed the gains made in 2012 dropped in most grades this year.

Students were taking tougher reading tests and most districts gave the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment math tests online.

Monday, State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said parents shouldn’t be concerned with the drop in reading scores, which are now aligned with the new national Common Core State Standards curriculum.

“It’s a brand new test,” Cassellius said of the “more difficult and challenging test.” She said it would not be appropriate to compare a student’s test scores with a previous year’s as they measure different sets of expectations.

The more stringent standards are to better prepare students for college or a career. Casselliuss said the scores do not offer a complete look at students’ knowledge.

Last year 76 percent of Minnesota students were considered proficient in reading. This year it’s about 58 percent. Third-grade reading scores saw the biggest decline, from 80 percent proficient in 2012 to 57 percent proficient in 2013. Eleventh-grade math scores rose 9 percentage points to 52 percent of students being proficient.

Locally, MCA reading test results were similar to state numbers.

In Park Rapids, 54 percent of the students were proficient in reading, 55 percent in Nevis and 56 percent in Menahga. Forty–five percent of Laporte students scored in the proficient range.

Statewide, math proficiency in third through eighth grade declined by a few percentage points over last year, although scores are still higher than two years ago.

This year’s statewide proficiency in math was 61 percent.

In Park Rapids, 60 percent were proficient in math, 58 percent in Nevis, 39 percent in Laporte and 68 percent of students in Menagha.

Last year, many districts in the state gave students three MCA math tests, and chose the best. This year’s students had one chance to pass the test.

The state department recently issued a report finding computer glitches didn’t affect scores of students in this spring’s round of testing.

Century principal Joleen DeLaHunt said the school’s third and fourth graders tested above the state average this year.

“We celebrate the hard work the staff has done, but there are areas where we can dig deeper. We will improve. We will look at what we’ve done well, and what we want to grow in,” she said.

“This is a snapshot view of student performance,” she reminded. “There are other indicators as to how students perform in school.”

DeLaHunt pointed out the test is an assessment of curriculum. “We may need to tweak or revise.” The test is not only to measure individual student performance but it’s a curriculum review, she said.

“It’s part of the journey in bettering teaching and improving learning,

assistant principal Shawn Andress said.

The purpose of testing is accountability, DeLaHunt said. “Kids continue to learn; this is one indicator. It’s an important piece of data, but we also rely on informal measures used in the classroom.”

The MCA information will be shared with teachers and the curriculum reviewed, DeLaHunt said.

This spring, legislators, with the support of Gov. Mark Dayton, did away with the Graduation Required Assessment for Diploma (GRAD) test, which students had to pass in order to graduate,

The exam was replaced with an ACT or military aptitude test, Park Rapids Area High School principal Jeff Johnson said.

The district is now in the planning phase of four-year ACT exams, he said. Students now take an Explore test as eighth graders and a Plan test as sophomores. Currently, 60 percent of PRAHS students take the ACT test as juniors. This may soon be required of all juniors, he said.

“It’s good that states are not requiring students to pass a specific test to graduate,” Johnson said. “But MCA tests hold schools accountable.”

He said the state now wants high schools to view education as a four-year path to career or college readiness.