Schools get test skills results

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 30, 2002

The test packets are in, the scores have been tallied and the results of the Minnesota Basic Standards Tests show Austin students are right on target.

The tests, which are required for graduation, are meant to ensure students do not leave high school without achieving basic skills in reading and mathematics. The tests are first taken in eighth grade and if they don't pass the tests the first time, students must retake them every year after that until they pass.

Sheila Berger, educational services coordinator, says a passing grade is a score of 600, which she estimates is the equivalent to getting 75 percent of the questions correct.

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The reading exam focuses on a student's ability to read and comprehend non-fiction writings such as newspaper articles and the math test examines a student's ability to solve common number problems such as calculating interest, making change, finding square footage and estimating amounts.

According to Berger, 77 percent of the 319 eighth-grade students in the Austin Public School system passed the reading test and 75 percent passed the math exam. The state averages are an 80 percent in reading and a 77 percent in math, so Austin "is right about average. In math, we're just above and in reading, we're just below," Berger says.

The students in grades nine through 12 who had to retake the tests, had a passing rate of 38 percent in reading and 35 percent in math.

Though students may not like them, Berger says "they are a safety net. When they were implemented in 1996, the philosophy was to make sure none of our kids were leaving school without these basic skills."

The schools have focused more on preparing students for the tests and have worked in more of the tests' elements into the curriculum. After the passing rate for the reading section was in the 50 percent range the first year, Berger says teachers have spent more time teaching their students how to read and analyze non-fiction writing. As a result, the scores have gone up.

However, Berger says it's important to realize "this is one snapshot on one day. It's not an absolute. Some groups of kids, some classes score better on this, but we need to understand this is one piece of the whole child. It's an important piece, but it's still just one piece."

Berger says she believes the tests are "very important because I don't think students should leave high school without these skills."

Jean McDermott, principal of Ellis Middle School agrees. "In good conscious, I would have a hard time saying, 'We should let these kids graduate without making sure they have these basics.' I think it (the Basic Standards Test) is a very legitimate and very reliable way to measure those."

Amanda L. Rohde can be reached at 434-2214 or by e-mail at