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District 833 results mixed on state tests; above state average, mostly small fluctuations seen

School District 833 students showed slight improvement in reading, mixed success in math and generally a strong grasp on science in standardized tests taken earlier this year.

Recent Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments results revealed South Washington County Schools continues to score higher than the state average across the board, and it saw mostly small gains or dips at various grade levels in the three subjects tested each spring.

The state Department of Education released the assessment results Aug. 25.

The math test is taken in grades 3-8 and 11. Reading is tested at grades 3-8 and 10. Students in grades 5, 8 and 11 take the science test.

“I am pleased to see that District 833 continues to outperform the state in reading, mathematics and science,” Superintendent Keith Jacobus said in a statement. “In particular, we can be impressed with our science performance, where we improved again this year, actually outperforming the state by double-digits. I am also happy that we showed some improvement in reading after the change to the test last year and corresponding drop in scores. We do acknowledge that this was a small change and our plan is to continue to invest in our focus on literacy moving forward.”

Reading proficiency increased slightly this year, after the district’s scores sank by double digits in 2013 with the introduction of a new, more rigorous test. State figures similarly dropped last year and rose this year by a slightly higher margin than what District 833 experienced.

“As a district … we’re happy that it didn’t drop again, but we’re aiming higher,” said Tom LaBounty, District 833’s director of research, evaluation and assessment. He analyzes the standardized test results, including the MCAs taken by roughly 97 percent of students and another two tests taken by a much smaller number of students, including those who have significant cognitive disabilities.

In District 833, all grade levels posted reading proficiency rates of between 63.7 percent and 72.9 percent. State reading proficiency ranged from just under 55 percent to 67 percent.

The reading results come as the district’s Teaching and Learning Department plans to focus this year on literacy. It’s putting Hillside Elementary reading specialist Todd Keith in a similar, part-time role districtwide to help with the added emphasis.

“Literacy is hugely important — it permeates all other subjects,” LaBounty said.

Math results were up and down. They fell by less than 1 percent across grades 3-8, but sixth-graders increased by a few points to about 69 percent proficiency.

High school math scores, however, will draw extra attention by administrators and teachers. The district saw a roughly 8 percent drop in proficiency among 11th-graders; nearly 61 percent of students met or exceeded proficiency. Statewide, high school math proficiency decreased but only by less than 2 percent.

“That’s something we want to take a closer look at,” LaBounty said.

The math test was new, which may be a factor in the proficiency change. Also, LaBounty said, the score is no longer tied to graduation, so there may be a motivational factor among high school students.

LaBounty said the district does not want to overreact to the decrease and instead will step back and look at possible explanations. It will be important to involve high school math teachers in that effort, he added.

Local science scores remain far above the state average. There was an overall proficiency increase of 2 percent in District 833, where the state increase was 1 percent. Elementary scores overall declined by less than 1 percent, while middle school and high school scores were up roughly 3 percent.

In fifth grade, about 73 percent of students met or exceeded proficiency, compared to 61 percent statewide. Roughly 59 percent of eighth-graders met that mark, while only 45 percent did so across the state.

In 11th grade, 72 percent were proficient. Across the state, it was only 53 percent of students.

The district’s higher scores may be attributed in part to its use of STEM and Project Lead the Way, two programs to boost science education.

“I think we’re doing some really good stuff in science, particularly at the high school level,” LaBounty said.

Even as District 833 as a whole continues to outpace statewide test averages, it faces continued achievement gaps among its schools and some student groups, which also occurred at the state level.

Some District 833 buildings, such as those with higher percentages of students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals, posted results below their peers in other schools.

There was a gap in science scores at the high schools. East Ridge and Woodbury had between 78 percent and 81 percent proficiency; only 55 percent of Park students were proficient.

Bailey Elementary and Hillside Elementary posted the highest science scores among the elementary schools at 86.6 percent and 83.7 percent, respectively. Pullman Elementary was the lowest at 44.2 percent proficiency.

In math, there were big gaps among eighth-graders in the district. At Lake Middle School, 82 percent were proficient, but at Oltman Middle School it was only 45 percent.

Similar variations were evident in grade school. More than 80 percent of Bailey Elementary fifth-graders met or exceeded proficiency in math, while only 41 percent of Crestview Elementary fifth-graders did so.

Addressing the achievement gap, Jacobus said the district is aligning its strategic plan to new “World’s Best Workforce” legislation.

“This year we have a priority to accelerate the learning for our lowest achieving students while ensuring a comprehensive education and continued growth for all students,” he said in his statement.

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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