Editor’s note: This is the second article in a planned mini-series that examines the state of District 518 schools based on the Minnesota Report Card. The next article in the series will explore the District’s English Language program.

WORTHINGTON — The percentage of Independent School District 518 students meeting or exceeding their grade level expectations in math and reading academic achievement are consistently below the state average, public data on Minnesota’s Report Card shows.

Across the district, 35% of students at Worthington are performing to their grade level in math achievement on the state-mandated Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment. Reading achievement is better, with approximately 46% of District 518 students meeting their grade levels. However, those marks are below the state average of 54% and 58%, respectively.

Valerie Spielman, who helps coordinate the state-mandated testing for the district, said that while those numbers don’t reflect where the district would like students to be, they aren’t cause for alarm.

“We’ve remained fairly steady,” she said, adding that the state’s average has also remained relatively stagnant over the last five years. “There’s been no big dives or spikes.”

Students across Minnesota are tested on their reading and math achievement on the MCA test at various stages throughout their academic career. Grades three through eight are tested annually on reading and math achievement. Reading achievement isn’t tested again until students’ sophomore years, followed by math during their junior years.

Among those tested include English learners and special education students.

Because parents or guardians may choose to opt out their student from taking the test, the data reflects the testing results of students who took it. In 2019, 94% of the district’s 2,112 students expected to be tested took the test.

How the district uses the data

The district dives beyond the average district-wide achievement rate in an attempt to identify where the gaps are. It examines data by grade, various groups and ethnic populations, and even standards that may be throwing students for a loop to help guide instructional decisions to better prepare students for future tests, Spielman said. The district has the ability to review more specialized data than the general public on the Minnesota Report Card system.

Generally, more students are meeting their grade-level expectations in reading than math achievement at most District 518 buildings. The exception is Prairie Elementary, which in 2019 had just less than 50% of students meeting their grade-level math standards. In reading, 40% met their grade level expectations.

That’s a contrast to the Worthington high and middle schools, which each had slightly less than 50% of its students meeting reading expectations of their grade level and just more than 30% satisfy grade-level reading achievement.

Students at the Learning Center also take the test, but with a smaller cohort of students may not get recorded by the state on the Minnesota Report Card.

Comparing the data various ways may reap different perspectives.

For instance, EL students, who account for more than 25% of the district’s student population, are also required to take the exam.

“They are definitely at a disadvantage,” Spielman said of students taking the exam who may not understand what’s being asked of them. While test directions and limited vocabulary words may be translated, the entire test cannot, she said.

Students of VIBE, the district’s virtual instruction platform, are also supposed to take the exam. Twenty-seven percent of the students, who are spread throughout the state, achieved grade level in math standards, while 44% met reading expectations consistent with their grade level.

MCA scores are used beyond the school district. With a higher rate of students experiencing a decline in math and reading achievement from their previous scores, Prairie Elementary has received additional support through the Minnesota Department of Education’s Regional Centers of Excellence since it opened in 2012.

The support, which has varied in amount over the years, is also given with consideration to the school’s demographics and tries to help meet the needs of all groups of learners, said District 518 Director of Teaching and Learning Katie Clarke.

While the state-mandated test provides valuable insight, it’s not the end all and be all.

Spielman said the district focuses on working with students where they’re at and providing what they need, which may also be emotional support and other life skills beyond state standard testing.