Students at state average in science

Published 9:07 am Tuesday, August 19, 2008

After the first year of statewide standardized tests in science, Albert Lea students are on par with the state average.

“We’re at the state average as a district,” said Albert Lea School District Director of Curriculum Judy Knudtson.

With all testing grades’ scores added together, 40 percent of Albert Lea students tested proficient on the Science Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment Series II statewide standardized tests, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. The district as a whole is actually one-tenth of a percent above the state average.

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Students in fifth, eighth and 10th grades took the first statewide standardized science tests this year. This was also the first year a standardized test was administered online.

Student results fell into four categories: does not meet standards, partially meets standards, meets standards and exceeds standards. Students meeting or exceeding standards are considered proficient.

Of fifth-graders in Albert Lea, 38.8 percent at Halverson Elementary School were proficient, 41.8 percent at Hawthorne Elementary School were proficient, 27.6 percent at Lakeview Elementary School were proficient and 45.3 percent at Sibley Elementary School were proficient.

Of 10th-graders at Albert Lea High School, 38.4 percent were proficient, and 46.9 percent of eighth-graders at Southwest Middle School were proficient.

The state average for fifth-graders was 39 percent proficient, for eighth-graders was 38 percent proficient and 10th-graders across the state were 43 percent proficient.

“These results underscore the need for Minnesota to continue with its efforts to improve science education,” said Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren, in a press release.

Across the state, 184,570 students took the Science MCA-II. The science standards “define what students should know and be able to do in a particular grade,” according to the Department of Education.

Science Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment Series II test results -percent proficient

School district 5th grade 8th grade 10th grade

State average 39 38 43

Albert Lea 38.4 46 38.4

Alden-Conger 18.9 32.3 48.9

Glenville-Emmons 28.6 22.6 26.7

USC 48.8 47.5 41.8

NRHEG 52.7 24.4 51.5

Fifth-graders were tested on science learned in grades three through five. Eighth-graders were tested on science learned in grades six through eight, and high school students were tested on life science and the history and nature of science.

“It’s good to know we are at least where everyone else is, and we will all move forward from here. It’s an interesting baseline to grow on,” Knudtson said.

MCA-II science scores are not included in a district’s adequately yearly progress.

Through the MCA-II scores, schools statewide are emphasizing math and reading according to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which measures those scores for AYP. However, the act also includes science scores.

At the state level, there is an emphasis on science through the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math initiative, but STEM isn’t in every class at every grade in every school district, “which certainly doesn’t mean we aren’t working hard to make sure our students get the best science education that they can,” Knudtson said.

Science is taught on all levels, kindergarten through 12th grade. All kids in grades kindergarten through eighth have science class, and the high school requires three years of science.

“I’m glad that we were at the state average,” Knudtson said. “Like the state, this simply indicates that we need to look at our science instruction and make sure it’s as strong as possible. At the same time, I would hope that we look at this testing situation.”

This was the first year students took an interactive test online for standardized testing. Knudtson said she knows some local students had questions on a few program glitches affecting their testing ability, but she said the district’s computer labs and equipment were well-equipped for the online test.

“It did appear students were engaged in the interactiveness of the online testing,” Knudtson said. “That was very pleasing to see.”

Statewide math and reading testing began in Minnesota with the Basic Skills Test in 1996. The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment began in 1998 in just grades three and five. Statewide testing expanded to its current status with the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001.

After the No Child Left Behind Act, adequate yearly progress came onto the scene as a way for schools to measure their student achievement. The act aims to have all students proficient by 2014.

“This is a baseline score for science, and we will all get better at the mechanics of the test,” Knudtson said, adding all school across the state will probably take this baseline and move forward from here.

A difficulty could come with standardized science tests because science is a hands-on topic, and it may be difficult to translate the skills in a measurable way on a test, Knudtson said.

The state is discussing changes to the statewide science testing, she said.