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Area schools receive state testing results

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WORTHINGTON — Many area school administrators are examining the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) results, released to the public Tuesday by the state, to assess their students’ achievement and see how they measure up to neighboring districts and state averages.

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The annual tests are used to gauge students’ progress in meeting expectations on Minnesota state standards for reading, math and science. They are required by state and federal law.

Regional districts saw a wide range of results, with some earning high proficiency percentages in certain grades and low proficiency in others.

The roughly 400 students that make up Red Rock Central’s student body performed well overall and had some of the highest proficiency scores in the area. Last year’s third-grade students at RRC, for example, tested at a 90 percent proficiency rate, compared to the state average of 71.5 percent. RRC eighth-graders were also significantly higher in reading, an area in which schools fell statewide last year, testing at 71 percent proficiency compared to the state average of 54.1 percent.

“We have magic water,” Superintendent Dr. John Brennan said with a laugh.

Brennan attributed high proficiency percentages to the relationships the teachers have with their students.

“If you were to come over here and see our kids and teachers, you’d notice that connection between the teachers and kids,” Brennan said. “Our teachers do a fabulous job. They would bend over backwards for the kids.”

Even RRC had areas to improve upon, but the district plans to continue doing what it has — encouraging discussion between teachers and focusing on the needs of the students.

“Our teachers are always meeting and talking about kids,” Brennan said. “The teachers do a fabulous jobs talking about getting kids rejuvenated in their classes.”

In Edgerton, school administrators have a slightly different take on the test scores released by the state. Edgerton Principal Brian Gilbertson questioned the usefulness of the results, citing the shifting test requirements as well as a letter sent to superintendents by the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education earlier this summer.

“It’s frustrating not knowing what the kids are going to be tested on because the parameters are constantly changing,” Gilbertson said. “The letter from the commissioner stated that these are basically invalid scores.”

While Edgerton students’ test results showed lower proficiency levels in some areas — 25.9 percent proficiency in fourth-grade reading compared to the state average of 51 percent proficiency, for example — Gilbertson stressed the results were not indicative of the achievement ability of the district’s students.

“Our kids didn’t function any less,” he said. “It’s just that these things are constantly changing. They went to a new testing company, and I think some of this is not knowing what the standards are going to be, and we’re still trying to figure that out.”

Gilbertson’s complaints may have some validity. The statewide dip in reading proficiency has been attributed by Department of Education officials to new, more challenging standards implemented last year. Likewise, math proficiency slipped this year due to a change in testing options given to students.

Additionally, students were previously able to take the online test up to three times. In 2013, students were only given one opportunity to take the test.

Luverne Superintendent Gary Fisher agreed the constantly changing requirements put districts at a disadvantage. Rather than focus on current requirements, however, he said his district prefers to continue to strive for high achievement standards.

“If we’re standards-based and we teach to those standards, everything else should fall into place,” he said.

Fisher pointed to requirements that previously barred students from graduating if they didn’t first pass the reading, math and science tests. To ensure the highest number of students passed the tests and therefore graduated, many schools — including Luverne — offered remediation programs for students that needed additional help.

The 2013-2014 school year will be the first year that students are not required to pass the three tests. However, Luverne plans to continue offering additional assistance for students who need it.

“By doing that, we think that if these are the skills kids need to go into the world, then the remediation part is essential so that we can go back and teach those things the students might need more help on,” Fisher said. “By continuing with that program, we still end up with better, well-rounded students who will have those skills when they graduate.”

Like other schools, the test results show potential areas of improvement for the Luverne district. Increasing the proficiency percentages will be a district-wide effort.

“First, we’re not going to teach to the test,” Fisher said. “Our plan is to sit down with the staff, take a look at the test results and look at areas that we need improvement, and then look at teachers and the best way to improve the way we teach kids.”

The district will also strive to integrate each subject with other classes throughout the day. Reading, for example, is not a skill that can be confined to only one class period.

“Sometimes people think reading is just an English problem,” Fisher said, “but it needs to become districtwide because reading is important in almost every area. Our main goal is improvement and achievement, and we need to figure out a way to help kids get there.”

For more information and to view the Minnesota Assessment Results from 2013 and previous years, visit http://w20.education.state.mn.us/MDEAnalytics/Reports.jsp.

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Alyson Buschena
Alyson joined the Daily Globe newsroom staff after spending a year in Latin America. A native of Fulda and graduate of the University of Northwestern, she has a bachelor's degree in English with a dual concentration in Literature and Writing and a minor in Spanish. At the Daily Globe, Alyson covers the crime beat as well as Pipestone and Murray counties, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and cooking. More of Alyson's writing can be found at http://throughthelookingglass.areavoices.com.
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