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Minnesota Students Make Small Gains On GRAD Test

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(credit: Jupiter Images)

(credit: Jupiter Images)

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota students made slight progress this year on standardized tests that determine if they’re meeting state requirements to graduate from high school, but fewer than half of the state’s 11th graders were considered proficient in math, according to test results released Tuesday.

The data from the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments also highlighted the academic achievement gap between white and minority students. The MCA includes the Graduation-Required Assessments for Diploma, or GRAD tests, of writing, reading and math.

For example, while 67 percent of white 11th graders met the state’s math graduation requirement on the first try, only 24 percent of the state’s black students, 32 percent of its Hispanic students, 32 percent of its American Indian students and 53 percent of Asian students did so.

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said it was good to see some progress overall, but the low scores among some of subgroups — including racial minorities, English language learners and students with disabilities — wasn’t acceptable.

“You can hardly be happy when you see some of the subgroups and the scores that they have,” she said. “Obviously, that’s very concerning and troubling. It’s evident that we need to something different. The status quo is not working.”

She said the state needs to find successful approaches from within its school districts, highlight them, and then find ways to replicate those successes statewide.

“That really is key to closing the gap,” Cassellius said.

Tom Dooher, president of Education Minnesota, the state teacher’s union, generally agreed with her approach of passing around successful education ideas. “It’s critical that Minnesota spread the academic excellence found in most of our schools to every classroom and every student in the state,” he said.

The data released Tuesday did not include breakdowns by district and school. That information is scheduled to be released in August.

The results are interpreted in two ways, the first to determine how many students meet state standards for graduation and the other, slightly higher standard, to see if students are what the state considers “proficient” in math and reading.

Students are tested to see if they meet the state’s graduate standards in writing in 9th grade, reading in 10th grade and math in 11th grade.

The new data show that, statewide, 79 percent of 10th graders met the state’s reading requirement for graduating on their first try, up one percentage point from 2010. In math, 59 percent of 11th graders met the standard, also a one percentage point increase from last year.

However, the share of the state’s ninth graders who met the writing standard on their first try fell one percentage point to 89 percent.

Students are allowed to re-take the test if they don’t pass on their first attempt and, under a law passed in 2009, they may not have to pass the math test at all. For the next four years, students who can’t pass the math test can graduate if they finish their course work, take a remedial class and take the test twice.

The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments measure proficiency in reading and math, as required by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The data show 75 percent of Minnesota 10th graders were proficient in reading on the test, which held steady from 2010 and was up from 71 percent in 2008. In math, only 49 percent of 11th graders were proficient in 2011, up six percentage points from 2010 and 15 points from 2008.

The achievement gap among racial groups also was clear. Fifty-six percent of white 11th graders were considered proficient in math, but it was only 17 percent of black students, 23 percent of Hispanic students, 23 percent of American Indian students and 43 percent of Asian students.

Cassellius said the scores show that her department needs to look into how math is taught in the state. The standards haven’t changed since 2003, and still fewer than half of all 11th graders are proficient, although that’s up from only 34 percent in 2008.

“I believe we have to do something different in mathematics,” she said.

However, Kent Pekel, executive director the College Readiness Consortium at the University of Minnesota, was more optimistic. He said comparing the 2011 math scores to 2006 shows strong growth among all groups.

While only 17 percent of black students were proficient in 2011, that’s up from 4 percent in 2006, for example. The percentage of proficient Hispanic students jumped 13 points from only 10 percent in 2006. The share of proficient white students rose 23 points from 33 percent in 2006.

“It does show we are making some progress in math with moving more kids toward proficiency, but it also shows we have a core group of students in our high schools who are way low that bar,” Pekel said.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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