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Area schools reflect on MCA test results

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) released districtwide Minnesota Comprehension Assessment (MCA) results for the 2017-18 school year.

Scores on the MCA reading test are measured in grades 3-8, and again in 10th grade. Scores on the MCA math test are also measured in grades 3-8, and again in 11th grade.

Statewide, 60.3 percent of students "met" or "exceeded" reading academic standards for proficiency last school year. Math scores declined slightly from 59 percent in 2016-17 to 57.6 percent.

MDE notes that "statewide assessment results are just one tool to monitor that we are providing our children with the education that will ensure a strong workforce and knowledgeable citizens." The test is given annually.

Educators and policy makers use the assessments to make decisions about resources and state support, according to the MDE. Parents may use the information to compare schools and decide where to enroll their children.

Park Rapids Area Schools

According to the Minnesota Report Card, available at, students at Park Rapids Area Schools performed as follows in the 2018 MCA. These included grades 3-4 in the elementary, 5-8 in the middle school, and 10-11 in the high school.

In math achievement, the percentage of students who met or exceeded standards was 53.1 districtwide, 75.8 elementary, 44.3 middle school, 45 high school.

Reading achievement: 52.9 districtwide, 52.8 elementary, 51.9 middle school, 57.9 high school.

Math academic progress, or the percentage of students whose achievement levels improved or maintained, was 53.7 districtwide, 56.9 elementary, 52.9 middle school. Data was not available for the high school. The statewide average was 64.9 percent.

Reading Academic Progress: 57.2 district-wide, 50 elementary, 58.8 middle school. Data was not available for the high school. The statewide average was 68 percent.

The percentage of students in the class of 2017 who graduated on time: 72.4 districtwide, 84.4 high school. The statewide average was 82.7 percent.

The percentage of students in the 2014 graduating class who graduated by 2017 was 82.2 districtwide, 85.4 high school. The statewide average was 86.9 percent.

The percentage of students who attended more than 90 percent of the time they were enrolled during the year: 82.5 districtwide, 90.3 elementary, 81.4 middle school, 74.2 high school. The statewide average was 85.6 percent.

Reporting to the Park Rapids school board about the MCA results, Superintendent Lance Bagstad reiterated that standardized testing is only one of many factors involved in evaluating a school.

"It's instruction," he said. "It's activities. It's culture. It's climate. There are many things that go into a day of school, as well as that point when we have to test students."

Bagstad reported that, based on three-year averages of districtwide test scores, the Park Rapids Area School District was identified for support through the MDE's World's Best Workforce program.

According to the MDE's Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, this lowest tier of support, also described as "enhanced core support," is distinguished from higher levels, such as targeted, comprehensive and priority support. The plan explains, "Schools in the lowest 25 percent of Title I schools for math achievement (or) reading achievement ... and that are not otherwise identified for support will be supported by MDE under World's Best Workforce."

The ESSA plan adds, "These schools will have access to additional networking and training opportunities focused on needs assessment and continuous improvement planning and on using Minnesota's Standards Portal to implement standards-based systems."

Nevis School

According to Nevis Superintendent Gregg Parks, the 2018 North Star Accountability Report provides an excellent snapshot of the school district.

"Nevis Schools did very well in regards to achievement and growth in Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) math and reading for students in grades 3-11," he said. "Our students consistently outperformed the state average in both math and reading. Overall, we feel very good about the results of the North Star Report. The results indicate our curriculum is aligned with state standards and our students are reaching high levels of achievement. This is the result of a lot of hard work by our professional staff at Nevis and the support of the families of our students. We exceeded the state average by 10 percent in math and reading by 8 percent. We also exceeded the state averages in science and attendance. However, there still is room for improvement."

Nevis' proficiency ratings were above the state's at 67 percent of total students proficient in math and 68.7 percent proficient in reading.

In the elementary, 69.8 percent were proficient in math and 69.8 were proficient in reading.

At the secondary level, 63.1 percent of high school students were proficient in math and 59.2 were proficient in reading.

In third grade, the percentage of Nevis students proficient in reading was 86.5 percent, compared with 57.5 percent. In math, those percentages were 89.1 percent in Nevis and 56.4 percent in the state.

The comparison of percentages in other grades (Nevis results first followed by state) are as follows:

Fourth grade reading 48 percent/55.5 percent and fourth grade math 78 percent/64.9 percent, fifth grade reading 74.6 percent/67 percent and fifth grade math 65.8 percent/54.7 percent, sixth grade reading 68.3 percent/64.5 percent and sixth grade math 41.4 percent/53.6 percent, seventh grade reading 59.1 percent/58.1 percent and 7th grade math 69.3 percent/54.4 percent, eighth grade reading 67.4 percent/58.4 percent and eighth grade math 70.3percent/ 57percent, 10th grade reading 73,3 percent/59 percent and 11th grade math 52.6/47.1.

"Last year, we established conservative growth goals of two percent in reading and math, and we were able to achieve that goal," Parks said. "We believe that we were able to achieve these goals due to a teacher-led plan of interventions and applying multiple interventions for students throughout the year."

Interventions implemented included targeted reading and math services, Title I and Response to Intervention. This is the district's third year in the elementary reading program. In the high school and middle school learning communities, Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) is being used.

Menahga School

Overall, Menahga's proficiency ratings in reading (60 percent) were equal to the statewide average. In math, 84.2 percent of Menahga students met or exceeded standards, surpassing the state average of 57.6 percent.

Menahga Elementary School was recognized for success on the 2017-18 MCA math test, according to Elementary Principal Jeannie Mayer. Third and fourth graders achieved 87.3 and 81.3 percent proficiency in math, respectively. These scores placed them in the top 5 percent of the state.

Mayer compared Menahga's third and fourth grade math and reading results with 11 area schools, noting that the results were "not apples to apples" because demographics differ among school districts.

"Nevis had some great scores in their third grade reading and math, so I may look to them and see what they are doing," Mayer said.

At the middle school level, an overall average of 63.2 percent were proficient in math, 63.75 percent in reading. Broken down by grade, the math results were fifth grade, 68.7 percent; sixth, 68.8 percent; seventh, 60.7 percent and eighth, 54.6 percent. In reading, they were as follows: fifth grade, 69.9 percent; sixth, 66.2 percent; seventh, 56 percent and eighth, 62.9 percent.

Sixty-one sophomores took the MCA reading test last spring, with 54.1 percent (33 students) achieving proficiency.

Meanwhile, 40 juniors took the MCA math test, but only 35 percent (13 students) met or exceeded standards.

Superintendent Kevin Wellen said he emailed Menahga staff after MDE received concerns that staff are promoting that parents opt out of the MCAs.

"We are not encouraging parents to opt out," he wrote. "We are informing. The form is in the handbook; handbooks are adopted as policy."

MCAs are not required for college, Wellen added, but students who receive a college-ready score on the MCA are not required to take a remedial, non-credit course at a Minnesota college or university, potentially saving the student time and money.

As of right now, Wellen said about 40 percent of Menahga students will be opted out by their parents or exempted by PSEO in April 2019.

According to MDE, under new state and federal laws, students not participating in MCA will not receive an individual score and "will be counted as 'not proficient' for the purpose of school and district accountability," thereby reducing the school's proficiency rate.

The MDE's new parental opt-out form includes as warning that "refusing to participate in statewide assessments may impact the school, district and state's efforts to equitably distribute resources and support student learning."

Wellen told the Menahga School Board on Sept. 17 that opting out does not impact the school district.

"We're going to trade actual teaching time for a test that is nice to read about results in the newspaper and compare schools, but that's all it's doing for us right now," he said.