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Minnesota among top states on national report

Published 10:23am Friday, November 8, 2013

Local educators are pleased Minnesota scored among the top states in this year’s National Assessment of Education Progress.

Results released Thursday from the nationwide tests, also known as NAEP, show Minnesota fourth graders scored among the top three states on the 2013 NAEP, which a random sample of students statewide took earlier this year. Minnesota tied with New Hampshire and Massachusetts in overall fourth-grade math, and placed third behind Massachusetts and New Jersey in overall eighth-grade math scores. Minnesota students ranked 10th in fourth grade reading and 11th in reading scores.

“In general, the scores are very encouraging for Minnesota educators,” said John Alberts, educational services director at Austin Public Schools.

Yet most American fourth and eighth graders still lack basic skills in math and science despite record-high scores on the national exam.

The 2013 Nation’s Report Card, which comes out every two years in conjunction with NAEP, finds that the majority of the students still are not demonstrating solid academic performance in either math or reading. Stubborn gaps persist between the performances of white children and their Hispanic and African-American counterparts, who scored much lower.

Overall, just 42 percent of fourth graders and 35 percent of eighth graders scored at or above the proficient level in math. In reading, 35 percent of fourth graders and 36 percent of eighth graders hit that mark.

Minnesota made slight progress in eliminating test score disparities between white and non-white students which has been a persistent problem in the state.

Gov. Mark Dayton and his education commissioner point out black fourth-grade students made sizable gains in math and reading scores over 2011.

Black eighth-grade students did not post similar gains, and Dayton and Commissioner Brenda Cassellius say it shows the need for recent school-funding hikes by the Legislature.

Dayton and Cassellius say the gains by fourth-graders show the results of a greater emphasis on early learning.

While national education and policy experts will study the latest round of NAEP scores, Alberts said the test results are difficult to be used efficiently at the local level. NAEP specifically compares student scores between states, and only through a sample of the student population. Austin educators can’t cross-reference that data with other testing benchmarks like ScanTron and the Multiple Measurement Ratings received through the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment.

“At a local level, it’s hard to say a lot about the NAEP scores,” Alberts said.

This year’s results, compared to results in 2011, show average incremental gains of about one or two points on a 500-point scale in math and reading in both grades, although the one-point gain in fourth-grade reading was not considered statistically significant.

“Every two years, the gains tend to be small, but over the long run, they stack up,” said Jack Buckley, commissioner of the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics.

Buckley said he was “heartened” by some of the results, “but there are also some areas where I’d hoped to see improvement where we didn’t.”

Today, President George W. Bush’s landmark education law No Child Left Behind, which sought to close achievement gaps among racial groups and have every student doing math and reading at grade level by 2014, has essentially been dismantled.

After Congress failed to update the law before it was due for renewal in 2007, President Barack Obama allowed states to get waivers from it if they showed they have their own plans to prepare students. Most states took him up on the offer.

Meanwhile, a majority of states are rolling out Common Core State Standards with the goal of better preparing the nation’s students for college or a job. The states-led standards establish benchmarks for reading and math and replace goals that varied widely from state.

Academic scholars have long debated what effects the law and other state-led reforms have had on test scores.

This year, Tennessee and the District of Columbia, which have both launched high-profile efforts to strengthen education by improving teacher evaluations and by other measures, showed across-the-board growth on the test compared to 2011, likely stoking more debate. Only the Defense Department schools also saw gains in both grade levels and subjects.

In Hawaii, which has also seen a concentrated effort to improve teaching quality, scores also increased with the exception of fourth-grade reading. In Iowa and Washington state, scores increased except in eighth-grade math.

Specifically pointing to Tennessee, Hawaii and D.C., Education Secretary Arne Duncan said on a conference call with reporters that many of the changes seen in these states were “very, very difficult and courageous” and appear to have had an impact.

Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said the biggest problem revealed in the results is the large gap that exists between the performances of students of different races.

There was a 26-point gap, for example, between how white and African American fourth-graders performed on the math section. In eighth-grade reading, white students outperformed Hispanic students by 21 points.

“We still have a situation where you have kids that are left behind. They aren’t given the same instruction. They aren’t given the same expectations as other kids,” Minnich said. He said it’s time for “doubling down and making sure the gaps get smaller.”



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