Minn. students gain in science

Published 9:27 am Tuesday, August 27, 2013

ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s students saw a slight setback in standardized test scores in math in 2013, made small gains in science and struggled with a new reading test.

The Department of Education is publicly releasing results of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests on Tuesday. The yearly tests, administered at a number of grade levels, help determine whether a student is eligible to graduate from high school.

On reading tests, just a little more than half of third- through eighth-grade students and 10th-graders met or exceeded state expectations. The Department of Education attributed that to the new reading test implemented statewide in 2013, which the agency said was more rigorous than its predecessor.

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Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius described the new reading standards as “more challenging,” and the department said the scores reflect that.

“Anytime a new test based on new standards is given, a drop in scores is to be expected,” Cassellius said. But she said toughening academic expectations was the best way Minnesota can help prepare its students for the challenges of a changing economy.

Of the seven grade levels to take the reading test, the percentage of students that met or exceeded expectations fell in a range between 54 percent (fourth-, seventh- and eighth-graders) to 64 percent (fifth-graders). Cassellius said the key measure would be whether the percentages improve in subsequent years.

Minnesota adopted national Common Core State Standards for reading and writing in 2010, but administered tests with those standards for the first time in 2013. The standards are designed to give students more complex reading material as they advance through the grades, and to require demonstration of comprehension through class discussion and writing projects.

On the math tests, the performance of third- through eighth-graders dipped slightly from 2012 to 2013. But in 2012, those students were allowed to take the test up to three times and use their best score. In 2013, the state’s flexibility waiver from federal No Child Left Behind provisions only allowed them to take it once.

The math tests all improved from 2011, the first year they were given. In addition, the number of 11th grade students who met or exceeded expectations on the math test jumped 9 percentage points — 52 percent in 2013 from 43 percent in 2012.

Another bright spot was improvements in science tests, which were first administered in 2012. Fifth-graders, eighth-graders and high school students all showed 1 percent to 2 percent gains.