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Minn. student scores stay mostly steady in reading, math

They didn’t jump dramatically nor did they fall
precipitously. So, “steady” became the watchword as the Department of
Education put out the latest batch of student test scores Sunday.

Compared to last year, math scores climbed a tad and the
percentage of students seen as proficient for their age in reading dipped
slightly. State officials chalked both results up to changes in testing
procedures while they bemoaned the mostly flat figures.

“We’re not satisfied,” Minnesota
schools chief Alice Seagren said. “I’m certainly not satisfied as the
commissioner of education.”

School leaders carefully examine the Minnesota Comprehensive
Assessment II results and use them as a tool in shaping curriculum changes. But
the data is also the main instrument in another important process: determining
which schools are living up to expectations of the federal No Child Left Behind

About 400,000 elementary, middle and high school students
took the tests this spring.

Students with limited English skills were able to take an
alternative math test for the first time, but they weren’t given that option in
reading as they were previously. Children with severe learning disabilities
were given different exams for both subjects. Those moves were enough to push
the proficiency averages up in math and down in reading, Seagren said.

Math and reading tests are given annually to third- through
eighth-graders. High school sophomores are tested in reading and juniors take a
math exam.

In reading, the proficiency rates ranged from 61.8 percent
to 79.6 percent, with the youngest students doing the best.

On the math test, the share of students performing at or
above their grade level reached 79.3 percent for third-graders before a gradual
slide eighth graders at 58.7 percent. By 11th grade, only a third of students
hit the mark.

That dropoff in high school bothered Seagren. “Some
students are blowing off the test,” she said.

Seagren was especially bothered by the math dropoff in high
school. She suggested lawmakers drive home the importance of the test by
passing a law to include the results of the test on student transcripts. Down
the road, the new high school tests will be used in determining who gets a

Naturally, the high school exams are also harder than those
given in earlier grades. They cover algebra, geometry and statistics.

A sample fifth-grade math question on the multiple choice
test asked how many feet a boy named Charlie ran by completing a 100-yard dash,
a 50-yard dash and the 200-yard hurdles. (The answer: 1,050 feet.)

A sample third-grade reading test included an article about
a recycling truck and then asked children to define words and identify key

In Fairmont,
Five Points Elementary School Principal Jim Davison dug into the results as
soon as they were available. He found that his students met or exceeded the
state averages in both subjects in most grades.

And testing could be a big part of Five Points’ success on
the state tests. The district is among those in the state that has decided to
assess its students more frequently than the state requires. It’s part of an
effort to more closely track student progress.

Computerized tests are administered at least twice a year in
addition to other in-class assessments.

“It’s more important to use a whole series of valid
data. A one-test intiative does not give you the information you need to
have,” Davison said. “It’s really a pretty dangerous move to rely
just on a single test.”

But one test, the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, are
the main component in the No Child Left Behind school rating system.

By late August, the department hopes to release a fresh list
of schools meeting and missing student achievement benchmarks, known in
education parlance as adequate yearly progress.

Under the law, schools are also assessed on rates of
attendance, graduation and test participation. Schools are required to show
continual improvement for the building as a whole and among subgroups such as
race and special learning populations.

Those that miss the mark face escalating sanctions ranging
from forced use of federal money for private tutoring to restructuring of the
school staff.

Seagren refused to guess how the latest results would shape
the upcoming designations. Schools will be notified of their standing sometime next
week and have 30 days to appeal before the list of underperforming schools
becomes public, said state assessment and testing director Dirk Mattson.

It’s a departure from recent years, when the test scores and
the school list were released simultaneously. The department said doing the two
tasks separately would give educators and parents a better opportunity to
analyze the information independently.

On the Net:

Results for individual schools are at

– Associated Press

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