By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN The state science test scores are in, and many students at local school districts fared better than last year.
“Our scores were very good,” Delano Public School Superintendent John Sweet said. “Three things contributed to that. One, our curriculum is aligned with state standards. Two, we have good instruction, good teachers. Third, the parents here are supportive and interested in their children’s education.”
Students in Delano all scored above the state average. In fifth grade, half of the students were at or above state expectations for proficiency. Eighth graders had a 63 percent proficiency level. High school students scored 20 percent higher than the state average, with 70 percent proficient.
Last year, Delano fifth graders scored 7 percent higher than the 2008-09 school year, but eighth grade had an 8 percent increase this year, and 10th grade improved by 4 percent.
“We did really well in science,” Watertown-Mayer Public School Superintendent Karsten Anderson said. “We’re pretty pleased with the results.”
Tenth graders at Watertown-Mayer High School had a 74 percent proficiency score.
“It’s really positive to see an increase in test scores,” Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted School Superintendent Brad Sellner added.
The biggest jump for HLWW was at the fifth grade level, with a 13 percent increase.
The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments-II science exams were given for the first time last year.
“It’s an online, interactive test,” Sellner said. “It’s a much different format in terms of what the kids are used to.”
Statewide, 46 percent of all fifth, eighth, and 10th grade students passed proficiency levels on the test this year, compared to 40 percent last year.
Some schools, however, noticed declines in certain grades.
At the high school level at Dassel-Cokato, scores dropped from 62 percent proficient to 51 percent. Eighth grade stayed at 49 percent, and fifth grade rose from 50 to 53 percent.
“We still are above the state average, but our scores aren’t as high as they were last year,” Dassel-Cokato School Superintendent Jeff Powers said. “I’m not exactly sure why that is.”
Because the tests are still fairly new, the significance of the data is still unknown.
“We don’t have much history to go off of,” Powers said. “We haven’t had a chance to establish a pattern.”
Lester Prairie scored below the state average, with 30 percent proficient for fifth grade this year, compared to 40 percent for the 2007-08 school year. Eighth grade improved by 10 percent this year, with 29 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards. High school students also scored higher, with 48 percent proficient this year compared to 31 percent for 2007-08. About 30 kids were tested at each grade level.
“With such a small number of kids, we pretty much look at each individual,” said Mike McNulty, superintendent and high school principal for Lester Prairie.
One factor that impacts test scores is students’ motivation to put effort into the exams, McNulty said. Because the science tests aren’t required for graduation, some students don’t try as much.
“I’ve seen kids get done in 20 minutes,” McNulty said.
“There’s no motivation to try hard on these tests,” Powers said. “They’re tested so often now.”
“I think what needs to change is we need to be testing less,” he added. “There are too many required assessments. We give up a lot of time, just giving the tests.”
Because the tests are given on computers, it also limits the computers that are available for other students during that time, he said.
“They’re giving so many different tests nowadays,” McNulty said.
For the MCA II reading, math, and science tests, schools are given one month to do the testing. Each test is done on one day, McNulty said.
“I feel they should be spaced out,” he said. If a few students are absent on test day, it can have a dramatic impact on test score averages.
“You do need a measuring tool,” McNulty said. “I understand that. Our job is to follow the rules and work toward improvement.”
“We will continue to work on doing a better job,” Powers said. “Each year, schools are going to continue to make progress.”
“We’d like to see the scores keep going up,” Sellner said. This year, the science curriculum at HLWW will be reviewed. The school will take a look at test requirements before purchasing textbooks and equipment, he said.
“We just continue to offer staff development opportunities for our teachers,” Sweet said.
McNulty said that while he doesn’t believe in “teaching to the test,” there’s always room to improve.
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.