MCA test scores down, Dist. 16 educators unruffled

District 16 students’ Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment test results took a dive this year, but both local and state education officials are not putting too much stock in the data.

Statewide, the percentage of students performing at or exceeding “proficient” levels fell, although District 16 reported lower percentages than the state average.

Each spring, third- though eighth-grade students are tested, as well as sophomores and juniors in high school. Exams are given in math, reading and science, although students do not necessarily take tests in all three subjects.

This year, math and reading tests underwent some changes, which may account, at least in part, for the lower numbers statewide. Last year, students were allowed to take the math exam up to three times online; this year, students were given only one trial. The 2013 reading test was new and more challenging than past tests; it will establish a baseline for future tests, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.

Across grade levels, District 16’s students were less proficient in math than the state in general.

Fifth and eighth graders in District 16 outread their Minnesota peers, but all other grade levels were below average. Statewide in Minnesota, 62.4 percent of sophomores were reading at a proficient level, but less than 50 were doing so in the Spring Lake Park School District.

Eighth graders also tested ahead of the curve in science, but only 34.1 percent of the high schoolers tested proficient, nearly 19 percentage points below the state average.

Spring Lake Park High School was below the state average in all subject areas.

But the numbers do not necessarily indicate cause for concern, education officials said.

“We don’t try to boil kids’ learning down to one test,” Superintendent Jeff Ronneberg said.

The district makes use of local assessments more frequently, he said, in part because results don’t come in from the MCA until the next school year has nearly begun.

“State tests are important, but the timeliness of them makes it difficult for teachers and principals to use them for instruction and planning purposes,” Ronneberg said.

In fact, with school starting next week, at press time, Ronneberg had not had time to review District 16’s scores yet.

Ronneberg has qualms with the MCA because it measures only “proficiency” and has no way to assess “growth.”

Education Minnesota President Denise Specht finds that the MCA is missing something, too, according to a press release from the organization.

“There’s very little connection between scores on standardized tests and success in post-secondary education or the workforce. Other factors are more important,” Specht said.

“Lifelong learners can meet deadlines, solve problems and keep going when others quit. In schools, we measure that with challenging assignments and grades. Knowledgeable parents understand that the most important lessons our educators teach won’t show up on an MCA score.”

Olivia Koester is at [email protected]