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MCA tests: scores rose for some schools, fell for other

July 13, 2009

By Starrla Cray
Staff Writer

HOWARD LAKE, WAVERLY, WINSTED, LESTER PRAIRIE, WATERTOWN, MAYER, MN – Many area schools showed improvement on Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment-Series II (MCA II) test scores, while some noticed slight declines. To see a breakdown of test results, click here.

In Lester Prairie, the district-wide proficiency scores rose 11 percent in math, while reading went up 2 percent.

The Howard-Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW) school district fell slightly, from 65 percent proficiency in math in 2008, to 63 percent in 2009. In reading, scores were at 77 percent proficient, a 1 percent drop from last year.

“There’s always going to be a little fluctuation,” Superintendent Brad Sellner said. “It’s not alarming when you see a little drop one year. If you start to see it year after year, you need to look at your strategies and teacher training.”

For the most part, area schools are above statewide averages of 64 percent proficiency in math and 72 percent proficiency in reading. The proficiency level is different than the passing level, Sellner noted.

Watertown-Mayer public schools had a 1 percent drop in math since 2008, from 66 percent to 65, while reading proficiencies stayed constant, at 76 percent.

Jon Anderson, Watertown-Mayer Middle School principal, said he looks at individual scores as well as overall proficiency levels per grade. The Minnesota Department of Education provides the raw data, but “we, as the school, look a little deeper than that,” Anderson said. “Let’s take a look at the names behind the numbers.”

Anderson said his school tries to identify areas that students need to improve in, and work toward those goals.

Last year, for example, there were 18 seventh graders who were within five points below proficiency, and 27 kids within five points above proficiency.

“That’s 45 kids who are right on that line,” Anderson said. “Of those 45, 36 of those kids were proficient this year. That was very impressive.”

One of the ways many schools prepare for MCA II tests is by taking state-aligned tests called Measures of Academic Progress (MAP).

“It charts growth and gives you a goal score for the spring,” Anderson said.

At Watertown-Mayer schools, students take the MAP assessment at least twice a year. Some teachers also have their students take the test in the winter, to make sure students are on track, Anderson said.

“We’ve ramped up our testing preparation,” he said. “We’re continuing to improve and adjust.”

HLWW is working on improving test scores by adopting a new k-12 math curriculum, Sellner said.

“I know that the teachers work very hard to prepare the students for the tests,” he said. “When teachers come back in the fall, we start to pinpoint what to do to help specific groups and individuals.”

In Lester Prairie, sophomore and junior test scores revealed significant improvements.

“We are above the state average in both tests (math and reading) for our high school, and it has been a long time since Lester Prairie could say that,” Superintendent Greg East said at a recent school board meeting.

For the MCA II math scores for the 11th grade, the percentage went from last year’s 33 percent to 57.5 percent of the students passing. The state average is 57 percent.

“That is over a 74 percent increase. That is amazing,” East said. “I was hoping for a 2 to 4 percent increase with the changes we brought, and we got 74 percent increase from one year to the next.”

The 10th grade reading scores in Lester Prairie went from 67 percent one year ago to this year’s 80 percent, with the state average at 78 percent.

At HLWW, high school students also improved, with a 7 percent higher proficiency in 11th grade math this year.

Eighth grade reading scores were another highlight, Sellner said, with proficiency levels 12 percent above the state average of 67 percent.

“Our reading has been strong,” he said. “I’ve always been proud of our scores here.”

Nick Guertin, director of teaching and learning for Watertown-Mayer public schools, said that the preliminary results show that the district didn’t meet AYP (adequate yearly progress) in certain subgroup areas.

Test scores vary from year to year because of the number of students in a class, the number of special education students, and several other factors, Sellner said.

“There are a lot of things that are going to have an impact on test scores,” he said. “We take it seriously when our kids do well, and we take it seriously if we start to see a change in our scores.”

MCA II tests are useful for measuring student progress, but schools can’t base performance for a whole school year on one test, Anderson said.

“The discouraging thing is, [a student] might have a bad day,” he said. This could make a difference in scores, especially for kids who are teetering on the edge of proficiency, he added.

“Overall, we are sustaining or even improving in certain areas,” Guertin said.

“We need to make sure to look at test scores over a long span of time,” Sellner said. “You’re going to have a dip from time to time.”

According to a Minnesota assessment history document, state testing of this kind is relatively new. Although the standards movement began in the late 1980s, statewide assessment requirements dramatically increased with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. The first operational administration of MCA II for grades 3-8, 10, and 11 was given during the 2005-2006 school year.

Students in grades 3-8 take the MCA-II Assessments in reading and mathematics. Students in grade 10 take the MCA-II in reading, and students in grade 11 take the MCA-II in math.

To see a breakdown of statewide and individual district results, go to the Minnesota Department of Education web site at www.education.state.mn.us.


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