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MCA, GRAD results are in for state

WORTHINGTON -- Scores on statewide standardized tests increased slightly or held steady in 2011, with the largest gains in math.

Statewide results were released for the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) in math and reading, which measure proficiency and determine whether schools met their No Child Left Behind Act requirements.

Results were also released for the Graduation-Required Assessments for Diploma (GRAD) in math and reading, which are embedded in the MCAs, and the writing GRAD.

"Testing has gotten out of control," said District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard. "We spend so many days testing in so many areas that you wonder, sometimes, if we even have time to teach the curriculum."

Only state-wide test results are currently available to the public, and individual schools' results will be released this summer.

Students take the reading GRAD for the first time at the end of 10th grade and the math GRAD at the end of 11th grade. Ninth-grade students take the writing GRAD.

Generally, in order to graduate, students must pass the GRAD -- though there is an alternate path to graduation involving remedial work if students cannot pass the math GRAD.

The statewide figures are puzzling, with 79 percent of students passing the reading GRAD and 59 percent passing the math GRAD -- increasing just one percent from last year. And 89 percent of students passed the writing GRAD -- down from 90 percent last year.

By the standards of the MCA reading tests, however, only 75 percent of Minnesota's students are proficient in reading, the same proportion that were reading-proficient last year. Student scores on the MCA math tests showed a more significant improvement -- just 43 percent of students were proficient in math in 2010, which climbed to 49 percent in 2011.

Minnesota is generally considered one of the top states in the nation in education, yet according to the MCA math tests, less than half its students are proficient in math.

"(With NCLB) you set your own standards. We set our standards way up here," Landgaard said. "It's a whole different approach."

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, each state determines its own testing standard and administers its own tests to determine whether schools make adequate yearly progress (AYP). State standards can be extremely high or very low, and Minnesota's math test is notoriously difficult.

"The claim that our students are failing is truly wrong when we're judging ourselves on a different standard (than other states)," Landgaard said. "There are math educators that wouldn't pass that test."

Landgaard added he remains hopeful that District 518's test scores will be higher this year and next year as the school continues to address achievement through its new interventionist position, its summer school and after-school programs, its strategic plan and its flexible learning year.

If a school does not make AYP multiple years in a row, it can lose some funding or be forced to restructure.

"No Child Left Behind was established as a penalty system, not recognizing each school's uniqueness and accomplishments," Landgaard said. "It really doesn't help address the issue of how to correct what may be a flaw in the system."

Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota's education commissioner, highlighted the achievement gaps between Minnesota's white students and students of color -- an achievement gap that has shrunk in the reading MCAs and grown wider in the math MCAs.

"We need to be doing something different, including taking a good, hard look at our math standards," Cassellius stated in a press release on the Minnesota Department of Education's website.