Austin falls behind state in science scores

Published 7:22 am Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The release of the Science MCA-II test results show Austin Public School District lagging 11 to 13 percent behind the state average.

The scores show that 33.4 percent of Austin fifth graders were proficient, versus the state average of 46 percent. Additionally, Austin eighth graders scored 35.5 percent versus 47.9 percent. Austin High School students scored 40.5 percent versus the state’s 51.8 percent average.

Compared to last year’s scores, Austin fifth graders dropped 2 percent, eighth graders dropped 4 percent and high school students dropped a full 5 percent. Meanwhile, the state improved 1 to 5 percent from last year.

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While Austin’s scores indicate students have regressed, Austin educational services director John Alberts said the data may not capture an accurate picture of students’ abilities, as only a limited number of grades are tested.

“It’s really hard to necessarily account for the lag. These are individually tested and there isn’t a lot of formative data,” said Alberts. “This is just something we do to get a sense of how the schools are doing.”

Alberts said this does not mean tests are to be disregarded. The district takes test scores into consideration when developing curriculum. After each round of tests, school districts receive a break-down of how students fared in specific science categories — from earth science to science history. If scores indicate weaknesses in a certain category, Alberts and others involved in the curriculum development process take that into consideration

The test is administered in the spring to students in fifth and eighth grade, along with high school students who have completed at least one biology course.

The exams are part of a request by the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act to report on students’ abilities in science. However, the Science MCA-II test is different than the MCA-II reading and math tests, which are used as official indicators of each schools’ progress under NCLB standards.

The science test is administered completely online. It also does not carry the weight of impacting the Adequate Yearly Progress requirement, since the gathering data for the report is a request as opposed to a requirement.

“The test is merely a report to see how we are doing,” said Commissioner of Education Alice Seagren. “Once you know where the majority the students in our state are at, you can take that information back to the curriculum and improve it.”

This is the third year of the test has been administered. In the upcoming 2011 school year, the Minnesota Department of Education will expand the Science MCA-II test to cover the a more robust degree of science, including the integration of engineering questions into the test.