By Starrla Cray
DASSEL, COKATO, MN This year’s Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA-II) results are in, and Dassel-Cokato School District once again scored well above the statewide average.
Last year, 74 percent of Dassel-Cokato students met or exceeded state standards in math. This year, that percentage climbed up a bit, to 76 percent.
Reading scores stayed constant, at 81 percent for both 2008-09 and 2009-10.
“We’re basically holding our own,” Superintendent Jeff Powers said. “I’m not displeased, but it’s not earth-shattering news, either.”
Most schools in the area were at or above the statewide average of 66 percent proficient in math.
Almost all of them were also above the statewide average of 72 percent in reading.
Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose increased from 74 to 79 percent, while many scored consistently with last year, including Waconia at 83 percent, Hutchinson at 78 percent, and Norwood-Young America at 73 percent proficient.
In small school districts, slight increases or decreases can be a matter of statistical deviation, rather than actual improvement.
“If we test 450 students, a small number of students can change it a couple percentage points,” Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted Middle School Principal Jim Schimelpfenig said. “There are so many variables.”
If a few students are having an “off” day, it can also impact the scores.
“It’s a snapshot,” Schimelpfenig said. “It doesn’t measure the true continual growth on an ongoing basis.”
In math, grades three through eight, as well as 11th grade, are tested each year. In reading, it is third through eighth, and 10th grade.
The MCA-II tests are designed to help districts measure student progress toward Minnesota’s academic standards. These tests are part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which requires that all students be proficient by 2014.
According to Delano School District Superintendent John Sweet, having all students achieve proficiency is a “nearly impossible” goal to meet.
However, school districts are still working toward that goal.
“You gotta keep moving forward,” Sweet said.
Delano Public Schools is one of 44 districts in the state to participate in a voluntary program called Q Comp. It focuses on performance pay and teacher evaluation, among other aspects.
The school set Q Comp goals for the MCA-II tests, and because it met the goals, each teacher received bonus pay of $1,322.
HLWW is also in the process of applying for Q Comp.
Dassel-Cokato has looked into the program, but decided against it.
“It’s a controversial, political issue that ties teacher performance to how well the students do,” Powers said.
Whether or not a school participates in Q Comp, it still has incentive to improve its scores.
On the MCA-IIs, each student earns a score in one of four achievement levels: does not meet standards, partially meets standards, meets the standards, or exceeds the standards. Students who meet or exceed standards on the MCA-II are considered proficient.
The state requires that schools make adequate yearly progress (AYP), measuring improvement by analyzing specific groups of students.
Two years ago, the Watertown-Mayer School District didn’t make AYP in math for its special education population. Then, in 2008-09, the school failed to meet AYP in the “free and reduced lunch” student group in math. As a result, the school decided to devote more attention to math in these areas.
Powers said its important not to get too caught up in the state test scores, however.
“At big districts, they have experts that all they do is analyze the results,” he said. “We can’t afford to have full-time people looking at these things. There’s a whole lot more to school than just these tests.”
Next year, the math standards will be revised, and students in grades three through eight will take MCA-IIIs instead of MCA-IIs. According to a timeline from the Minnesota Department of Education website, high school will most likely switch to MCA-IIIs in 2013-14. Reading MCA-IIIs will be operational in the 2012-13 school year.
It’s possible that schools will see a slight dip in test scores as they adjust to the new standards, Powers said.
To view complete test results, go to www.education.state.mn.us.