Significant achievement gap persists between whites and students of color
Leaders in Osseo Area Schools believe recently released standardized test scores reflect continued progress in math and a new baseline for measuring in reading in the district.
The Minnesota Department of Education released scores from the 2013 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests Aug. 27.
In the Osseo District, the percentage of students proficient in math stayed approximately the same as last year. Overall, the state’s math scores declined slightly.
According to the education department, last year’s math scores may have been artificially high because students were allowed to take the MCA III test up to three times and use the highest score. This year, students could only take the test once, due to the state’s waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind program.
Don Pascoe, director of research, assessment and accountability for the Osseo district, said the district had expected a slight drop in math scores, similar to the rest of the state. He believes the fact that scores remained about the same means students in the district made sufficient progress to overcome the change in testing protocol.
In reading, both the state and the Osseo district saw a significant decline in the percentage of students testing at the “proficient” level, because they took a new, more challenging test. The new test, the MCA III, is based on the “common core standards” adopted by the state in 2010 and now used by many states nationwide.
“It’s harder (reading) passages, harder questions,” Pascoe said.
On top of that, the score needed to meet proficiency standards also went up, he said.
“Anytime a new test based on new standards is given, a drop in scores is to be expected,” said Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius.
Pascoe described this year’s reading scores as a new benchmark for comparison in the future. He said the state generally follows a pattern of using a test for about five years and then raising the standards. That results in the appearance of steady improvement followed by a quick drop when a new test is implemented – but it’s actually the result of higher standards.
“If you want to influence what people teach, you have to change the standard,” Pascoe said.
In order to have a more consistent internal comparison from year to year, the Osseo district administers other tests besides the MCAs.
In addition to the changes to MCA tests and protocols, state scores this year were affected by technical problems with online assessments. Although an independent analysis of the tests concluded the results were valid, some scores were likely affected, and some districts have complained.
But Osseo Area Schools stuck with pencil-and-paper tests in reading this year, instead of using online tests. That probably worked in the district’s favor when the technical problems occurred.
“We did not have the kinds of issues surrounding districts had,” Pascoe said.
Compared to the state average, the Osseo district tends to do better in the later grades than in the earlier.
Pascoe says that’s a good thing, because the district doesn’t have much control over students’ proficiency when they start school.
“We always look toward the later grades, because that’s really our product,” he said.
This year’s results in reading indicate that the district lags the state by 5 or more percentage points in the early grades, but matches the state average by sixth grade and slightly exceeds the state in grades 7 and 10.
In math, the district lags behind the state average in all grades tested, but the gap closes significantly in the later grades.
Pascoe said math is where the state excels, based on Minnesota’s ACT scores compared to the rest of the nation.
“Chasing the state is chasing a really strong standard,” he said.
Pascoe pointed out that recent results from the ACT college readiness exam showed Minnesota students had the highest average score compared to all states where more than half of eligible students took the test. It was Minnesota’s eighth straight year at the top.
Although the Osseo district believes its students are continuing to grow, the MCA scores reveal that an achievement gap persists between white students and students of color.
In 2013, only 34 percent of black students tested in the district were proficient in math, compared to 74 percent of white students. Statewide the gap was slightly less, with 35 percent of black students proficient in math compared to 70 percent of white.
In reading, 34 percent of black students in Osseo Area Schools were proficient in 2013, compared to 73 percent of white students. Statewide 32 percent of black students were proficient, compared to 65 percent of white students.
“Although our subgroups have made good progress over the last few years, as you can see there are still large gaps between the groups,” Pascoe said. “This is the focus of much of the district’s work.”
To illustrate progress in closing the achievement gap, the district points graduation rates of black students in the district. Osseo Area Schools saw the greatest improvement in the graduation rate when compared to the three other Minnesota districts with at least 100 black graduates in 2007 and 2012. Last year, the district also had a 65.6 percent graduation rate for black students, the highest among the four districts.
To explore more information on test scores, go to tinyurl.com/MNtestscores.