Educators analyze latest MCA results

MARSHALL – The 2013 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) scores were released by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) this week, providing public schools with a tool to help gauge student progress in meeting state standards for reading, math and science.

Minnesota continues to be a national leader in setting higher standards, having ranked at the top of the nation in ACT scores for the eighth straight year, though educators would still like to see even more student progress on state tests. For that reason, the bar was raised in reading this year, requiring students to take a more challenging reading test which was aligned to career and college-ready standards.

Not surprising, little more than half of the 58,557 to 62,389 students in each of the grades (3-8 and 10th) met or exceeded state expectations. The state went through a similar process with testing in math, giving students a more rigorous test (MCA III) in 2011.

“Anytime a new test based on new standards is given, a drop in scores is to be expected,” MDE Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said in a news release. “But setting high standards is the right thing to do. If we want our students to compete in a global economy, we must continue to stretch and hold ourselves accountable for helping students meet higher standards.”

The state is not only committed to developing high standard tests, it is also working hard to provide teachers and students with the best process of administering those tests so that results can be returned to educators in a comprehensive and timely matter.

“We can be proud of the fact that Minnesota is a pioneer in setting high expectations for students and in using online testing that give more timely information to teachers and parents,” Cassellius said.

More than 95 percent of students reportedly took their math test online this year, highlighting the importance of an online environment.

“Moving to better tests that provide teachers with timely accurate feedback on students’ progress requires an online environment,” Cassellius said. “And while no online system is perfect, reaching our goals requires these data systems to help us drive aggressively toward results. As we enter the season of test results reporting, we’ll have many data sets to look at and gauge how Minnesota students are doing.”

Cassellius warned, however, that the recently released test results are only a snapshot in time. The true measure of progress is better served by analyzing trends established over a number of years rather than on the ups and downs that can occur from year to year, she said.

“These tests, while important, are just one piece of the overall picture of how students and schools are doing,” Cassellius said. “Nothing can replace talking to your child’s teacher, reviewing their daily work and visiting your child’s school. We should stand proud of our students’ success, use the data to identify challenges and then do the hard work it takes every day – not just on testing day – to ensure every child is successful.”

Educators can break down assessment data to pinpoint how many students fell into each of the four categories (did not meet, partially met, met or exceeded standards), and they can also analyze how ethnicity and other factors play into the test results as well as compare data to state averages.

The number of 11th-grade students who met or exceeded expectations on the MCA II test rose 9 percentage points from a year ago. When compared to state math averages, area public schools did well overall. Seven area schools scored above the state average (1,149.1), with Murray County Central (1,154.8 average score), Minneota (1,154.6), Dawson-Boyd (1,154.3), Wabasso (1,152.5), Ivanhoe (1,152.5), Russell-Tyler-Ruthton (1,149.7) and Tracy Area (1,149.3).

Lakeview (1,147.5), Westbrook-Walnut Grove (1,147.1), Marshall Public School (1,146.3), Yellow Medicine East (1,144.3), Canby (1,141.1) and E.C.H.O. Charter (1,140.6) students scored below the state average.

“We recognize that we were below the average, but we did see a fairly nice increase from where we were from the 2011-12 assessment year, so we were excited to see those improvements,” Marshall Superintendent Klint Willert said. “It’s important to remind people that there is more than just this assessment that we use to gauge our school. We look at advanced placement results, which we’ve shown improvement on, and other measures.”

Area third- through eighth-grade students taking the MCA III had varying test results. Because of the state’s flexibility waiver from federal No Child Left Behind provisions in 2013, students were not able to take the best of three scores like they did the previous year. Though statewide performances dipped slightly from a year ago, the scores do reflect an increase from 2011 when the more rigorous standards were given.

Ivanhoe third- through seventh-graders scored well above the state averages in each of the classes, while eighth-grade results were not calculated since there were fewer than 10 tests recorded.

Average scores from third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at Lakeview scored well above the state averages, while eighth grade scored were slightly above. Seventh-grade scores fell below. MCC fourth-, sixth- and eighth-grade students surpassed the state average, while third-graders matched the state average and fifth- and seventh-graders fell below.

Students at Dawson-Boyd scored above in third, seventh and eighth grade and fell below in the other three grade levels. Lake Benton had two classes score above the state average (grades 4, 6), while two fell below (third and fifth grade). RTR had three groups of student exceed the state average (grades 5, 6, 7) and three fall short (3, 4, 8) as did WWG (grades 4, 5, 6 above and 3, 7, 8 below).

Marshall students topped the state average in seventh and eighth grade but fell below in third through sixth grade.

“Those are areas that we’re going to take a look at when our data teams meet,” Willert said. “That’s something we do on an annual basis once we get results back. We’ll analyze everything to find where we met benchmarks and where we didn’t.”

Willert pointed out that Marshall looks for two specific areas.

“In our process, we look at trends to see if there’s something that is consistently missed at a specific grade level but also from a cohort group as well,” he said. “Last year’s fourth-grade results aren’t compared to this year’s fourth-graders. The results are compared to the actual fifth-graders who took the test. We’re able to make some pretty good assessments and work with teachers to come up with practices to improve on.”

Canby fifth- and sixth-grade students were above state averages, while grades 3, 4, 7 and 8 were not. Student scores at Tracy Area fell below the state average in all except seventh grade. Average student scores in all six classes that were tested at Wabasso, Minneota, Lynd, YME and E.C.H.O fell below the state averages.

“Just because somebody receives one speeding ticket, they’re not necessarily a bad driver,” Willert said. “It’s the same with testing. Just because we might have a hiccup here or there, we’re not a terrible school. We’re more than just a single test.”

New reading assessments, which note an increased rigor consistent with Minnesota Academic Standards, established a new baseline in which to monitor progress in the future. MDE reports reveal that this year’s scores reflect additional text complexity, including making connections between two passages and increased cognitive demand based on Depth of Knowledge.

“It’s important to look at today’s test results for what they are: a snapshot in time that tells us how students are doing in mastering our state standards,” Cassellius said. “What is needed now is to focus our efforts and stop moving the goal posts so teachers and students have a consistent target to hit.”

Students from Marshall Public School and Dawson-Boyd tested above the state reading averages at every grade level except for seventh. Seventh-graders from Lakeview also fell below the state average, while 10th-graders matched it, and all the other grades surpassed the mark.

“Our reading results have really emphasized what our district has been focused on over the last couple of years,” Willert said. “We’ve had a strong focus on reading, so it’s nice to see that validation for what you’re doing by investing in a program and in a service, that it does pay dividends if you stick with a plan.”

Willert noted that reading coaches had been hired to work directly with teachers and assessment data in order to get the correct interventions in place.

“Our results are a direct reflection of that,” he said.

Three other schools had scores above the state average in all but two classes. Canby and RTR scored above except for seventh and eighth grade, while MCC only fell below in fourth and sixth. Ivanhoe had three grades above (4, 6, 7) as did Tracy Area (3, 7, 8), while the others were below.

Lake Benton fifth- and sixth-grade scores topped the state average, though third- and fourth-graders did not. E.C.H.O. sixth-graders surpassed the state mark, but grades 4, 5, 7 and 8 did not. Milroy was below in eighth grade and Clarkfield was below in third grade, with all other grades not applicable at either school.

Test results showed that Lynd and WWG students were below the state average at every grade level except for sixth grade (Lynd had two that were not applicable). Wabasso fell short of the reading average in all scores except for 10th grade. Minneota students were above in fifth- and sixth-grade scores but below in all of the others. YME was shy of the state average at all levels.

While diversity, poverty and other issues affects some schools, others don’t necessarily have those challenges, which makes growth and improvement a better measurement. The state’s Multiple Measurement Ratings (MMR), which provide even more comprehensive data for educators, will be released on Oct. 1.

Current results can be found on the MDE website at: