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School District 833 test results show math gains

An Oltman Middle School student uses an iPad in a math class. District 833 students overall showed an increase in math proficiency on a state standardized test this year. (Bulletin file photo)

South Washington County students scored higher than the state average in core subject areas this year but like the rest of Minnesota saw their reading scores plummet on a new test.

School District 833 students generally tested better than the state averages in math, science and reading, according to the 2013 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment results released last week. The district showed gains of up to 8 percent in math at certain grade levels, compared to the 2012 results.

Yet the data also revealed persistent proficiency gaps among student groups, and in some areas there were large disparities among District 833 schools.

In many cases, local students scored more than 10 percentage points better than the state average on the standardized tests taken in April. In science, for instance, 74 percent of District 833 fifth-graders met or exceeded proficiency standards, compared to 60 percent statewide. And in math, for example, 84 percent of local fourth-graders met or exceeded proficiency standards while the statewide proficiency was only 71 percent.

Reading scores suffered this year as the state shifted to a new test that assesses children differently, is more difficult and has higher standards.

District 833 Superintendent Keith Jacobus said “Minnesota’s focus on increasing rigor to ensure students are college and career ready complements our work related to the strategic plan.

“While the reading results mirror what took place across the state, overall, our trend data shows consistent improvement in math and science,” Jacobus said in a statement. “We are especially pleased with the significant gains in elementary science. We remain confident that the new reading test will better prepare students and will show improvements into the future.”

Math improvements

The district overall posted a 5 percent proficiency improvement in math this year, the second straight year of increases. New math standards were adopted in 2011.

“I think we did pretty good in math,” said Tom LaBounty, the district’s director of research, evaluation and assessment.

There is no “silver bullet” that explains District 833’s gains in math, LaBounty said.

“I think that every year it seems like ... we continue to work together better in the things that we know work for kids,” he said, noting that teachers are doing a good job of personalizing learning for students.

Hillside Elementary in Cottage Grove saw among District 833’s biggest math gains. Principal Erin Shadick said the staff has put extra focus on that subject in recent years. For instance, students in the school’s upper grades get an extra half-hour of math each day.

In addition to higher scores overall, Shadick said the school is seeing smaller math proficiency gaps among student subgroups.

It’s relieving to see student gains on the state tests, she said.

“It is a public number that goes out there. It feels good to have the numbers that we have now,” Shadick said. “Six years ago, we were a building that wasn’t in that position, and it doesn’t feel good.”

With the exception of grade 6, where the proficiency rate did not change, District 833 saw overall math improvements in all grades tested when 2012 and 2013 numbers are compared. But results varied by school and even by grade within a school.

The reading test results are drawing particular attention in south Washington County and at the state level. Proficiency rates across Minnesota dropped when this year’s test was changed to reflect stricter standards.

At every level tested — grades 3-8 and 10 — more than 80 percent of District 833 students met or exceeded proficiency last year. After taking the new exam this year, those grade-level proficiency averages dropped to between 60 and 74 percent.

The reading test results should be viewed as a baseline score, so it’s not appropriate to compare them to previous years’ results, Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said.

“It’s a different test, it’s a much more difficult test,” Cassellius told reporters in a conference call.

Local disparities

The 2013 scores also showed continued disparities among some District 833 schools. Schools with higher percentages of lower-income students tended to score lower on the assessments.

In science, for example, 92 percent of Red Rock Elementary students met or exceeded proficiency. That number was 87 percent for Armstrong Elementary, 61 percent for Woodbury Elementary and 47 percent for Crestview Elementary.

Gaps among schools were present in math as well.

“Although we are excited about our strong performance, we recognize the continued gap in achievement between certain groups,” Jacobus said. “This year we have a priority to accelerate the learning for our lowest achieving students while ensuring continued growth for all students.”

Several of the District 833 schools that posted the lowest proficiency rates are among those whose students will be using iPads beginning this fall. The iPad program, part of a broader district technology initiative, is being implemented at Pullman, Crestview and Newport elementary schools, along with Oltman Middle School and Park High School.

The district sees opportunities to use the iPads to personalize learning for those students, LaBounty said. Future test scores as well as classroom observations and surveys will be used to determine whether the iPad initiative helps to raise student proficiency.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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