Schools reflect on test results

FAIRMONT – Statewide results for the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests have been released, giving districts an opportunity to see how last year’s students performed.

Overall, students did not score as well on the standardized tests as their districts would have liked. Across the state, students tended to struggle with the new reading standard. Locally was no different.

According to Fairmont Area Schools Superintendent Joe Brown, the reading test incorporated more non-fiction skills, including interpreting graphs and data, a move Fairmont began preparing for last year. The new test is designed to be more aligned to career and college standards.

Another change faced by test-takers was that the math test was administered online.

“It’s important to look at [the] tests results for what they are: a snapshot in time that tells us how students are doing in mastering our state standard,” said state Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. “What is needed now is to focus our efforts and stop moving the goalposts so teachers and students have a consistent target to hit.”

The goalposts she refers to are the federal No Child Left Behind goals, which increased student proficiency requirements each year, moving toward a 100 percent rating by this school year.

Minnesota was granted a waiver to the federal requirements, meaning schools no longer are labeled as not making “adequate yearly progress” if their test scores aren’t high enough. However, Minnesota schools are still required to take the tests.

Cassellius said if the waiver hadn’t been instituted, every school in the state would be in need of improvement this year under No Child Left Behind.

In addition to the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment, students in previous years were required to take a math test, the Graduation Required Assessment for Diploma. Last year, the requirement for the test was waived, allowing more than 20,000 students who may have previously been denied diplomas based on a single test to graduate.

“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.

Locally, Brown is disappointed in the district’s scores.

“I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be above average,” he said. “I would like to see everyone at least average.”

Brown doesn’t like to make excuses for the results, but sees attendance issues as a problem area that affects the test.

“The top kids are there 95 percent of the time,” he said. “The kids at the bottom miss the most days.”

Blue Earth Area Superintendent Evan Gough noted that his district is working to improve its scores.

“As a school district, we are dedicated to improving our proficiency rates,” he said in an email to the Sentinel, “and we look forward to engaging parents and community members in our efforts to improve the learning of all of our students.”

Cassellius said the key to moving forward is making sure parents and teachers work together.

“We need to continue to invest in teachers and change the conversation from blame and shame to trying to support them,” she said.