MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota students showed some progress in reading on the state’s standardized tests and 11th graders did even better on the math portion, but over half still weren’t considered proficient, the Minnesota Department of Education reported Wednesday.
The department reported that 74 percent of Minnesota students scored as proficient in reading on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments last spring, an increase of 1.6 percent from the previous year. The biggest gains were in grades five through seven, where minority students showed more improvement on average than their white counterparts.
The number of 11th graders who scored as proficient in math increased 5.3 percent from the previous year to 48.6 percent. However, the state’s academic achievement gap between white students and racial minorities remained. For example, 16 percent of black 11th graders made the grade while 55 percent of white juniors did.
It was difficult to calculate an overall math score for the state because students in grades three through eight took a test based on tough new standards for the first time. Those standards, which include the expectation that eighth-graders be proficient in algebra, were announced in 2007 and assessed for the first time this spring.
Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said that while the improvement in reading scores was welcome, it was lower than she had hoped.
“I wanted to see double-digit numbers,” she said.
She was more excited about the gain in math proficiency among 11th graders, although she said she was still disappointed that more than half of the state’s high school juniors missed the benchmark for proficiency.
“There is a gap between what we expect and what kids know, that is the gap that needs to be minded,” she said.
She was also disappointed that minority students didn’t show more gains.
In the previous nine years, the scores on the MCA tests were used to determine if Minnesota schools faced sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind law, which required that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014.
However, this year Cassellius has requested a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education that would prevent more schools from being labeled as failures and relax sanctions on schools that have already run afoul of the law.
“It just really important to impress that even as we are doing our NCLB waiver that we are still holding all districts accountable for educating all kids,” she said. “We want all kids to have an opportunity to excel.”
Kent Pekel, executive director of the College Readiness Consortium at the University of Minnesota, chalked up the increase in the 11th-grade math scores to a combination of factors, including students realizing they need more math courses to get into college and the payoff from another overhaul of the math standards made a decade ago.
“I think this just shows the urgent need for Minnesotans to take a long-term approach to education improvement,” he said.
Pekel said the small increase in reading was part of a national trend, as many other states have struggled to significantly improve reading scores. He called it one of the mysteries of American education.
“Generally speaking, we really are at a point where we not making the progress we need in reading,” he said. “That’s despite big increases in literacy spending at many levels.”
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