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Perham-Dent School District: State test scores a mixed bag

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Despite promising scores in some areas, the Perham-Dent School District has room for improvement in future rounds of state testing.

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Education released the results of the 2013 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) tests.

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“My initial reaction was that it is a mixed bag,” said Perham Superintendent Mitch Anderson.

Overall, the high school performed very well, while the lower grades generally came in near or below state averages.

Each spring, students in Minnesota’s public schools are tested on their understanding of reading, math, and science in relation to standards set by the state.

Students in third through eighth grades are tested in math and reading. The reading test is given again in 10th grade, and math in 11th. Pupils are given the science test in fifth and eighth grade, then once again after taking biology in high school.

Math

Scores on the math MCA have increased statewide since 2011 for all grade levels. However, the scores of Perham’s third, fourth and fifth graders were four points lower than the state averages. Eighth graders were nine points under.

Anderson attributes the difference, in part, to a change in testing procedure.

In 2012, when students were tested, they were given three attempts on the math test and the highest score was recorded.

Now that Minnesota has opted for the No Child Left Behind waiver, Anderson explained, students are only able to take the math test once.

In spite of this change, the Perham’s overall math average dipped only two points: 62 to 60.

Reading

Major changes to the reading test also affected Perham students’ scores in comparison to past years, said Anderson.

The new reading test given this past spring was more rigorous than former versions. As a result, the Minnesota Department of Education cautioned that scores would not compare as equally to the past. According to the department, text passages for the 2013 reading test were more complex and required a greater “depth of knowledge” than previous versions.

Perham’s fourth and fifth graders’ reading scores were below the state average (49 vs. 54, and 53 vs. 60, respectively). Eighth graders tied the mean at 53 percent.

 “We were told it (the reading test) would be new, but it was a surprise, too,” said Anderson. “We don’t teach to the test, per se, but we do base the curriculum off of it.”

Now, with this knowledge of Minnesota’s adjusted reading standards, Perham’s educators plan is to adjust this year’s curriculum accordingly.

Science

Statewide, scores on the science assessment have increased for the last two years.

In Perham, the eighth and high school scores were more than 10 percent higher than the Minnesota average.

Looking forward

“We reviewed the results as a whole last week at the K through 12 workshop,” said Anderson. “We have to ask ourselves if there is a hole somewhere.”

Addressing that potential “hole” can be difficult when tests and standards continue to change.

“It’s important to look at today’s test results for what they are: a snapshot in time that tells us how students are doing in mastering our state standards,” wrote Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius in a press release last week. “What is needed now is to focus our efforts and stop moving the goal posts so teachers and students have a consistent target to hit.”

Judging by results of the three MCAs, Perham’s high school students have found that goal.

For math and science, the high school scores were higher than state averages (math, 64 vs. 52; science, 66 vs. 53).

Even on the more difficult reading test, 73 percent of Perham’s sophomores were within the expected standards.

“If you look at our high school results as a whole … by the end of their career, our students are knocking it out of the park,” said Anderson. “We know where it (success) is, and how to get there.”

Elizabeth Huwe

ehuwe@perhamfocus.com

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