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Test results out; schools await fate
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Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke announced the test results Thursday. (MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire)
Minnesota third and fifth grade test scores are on the rise again. Statewide scores released Thursday show elementary students posted significant gains in reading and math. State education officials will use the results this summer to identify schools not meeting performance goals.

St. Paul, Minn. — This was the sixth year third and fifth graders took the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCAs. The tests were designed to measure how well students are progressing toward state graduation standards. There are no passing or failing scores. Instead, the scores fall into one of five achievement levels.

The number of students reaching the highest level stabilized last year after four years of steady gains. This year's results from the state Department of Education show a new upward trend. Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke says the results are good news.

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Image In charge of testing

"Sometimes people are hesitant about testing. There's some fear in the field about testing. But frankly, you cannot know, you cannot measure achievement, you can't measure how far you've improved, unless you have testing to show that," Yecke says.

The biggest gains came on third grade reading and math tests, and the fifth grade math exam. Fifth-grade writing scores were largely flat. A score in the level one range indicates gaps in a student's knowledge and skills, while those scoring in the highest level are working beyond their grade level. Average score were up this year, and fewer students are landing in the lower levels.

Reg Allen, the department's assessment director, says the strength of a group of students moving through the system can influence results. He says this year's fifth graders also scored especially high when they were in third grade.

"So you have to interpret these changes not in a simple one-directional sense -- up equals good, down equals bad," says Allen. "You've got to interpret them in the context that there are some changes from year to year, which you should expect. There are some changes in how these things are playing out in schools, and you start to see that that way."

There's some fear in the field about testing. But frankly ... you cannot measure achievement, you can't measure how far you've improved, unless you have testing to show that.
- Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke

State officials will use the MCA scores of student subgroups to identify the schools not meeting the state proficiency goals, which are required under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The law requires schools to bring all students to proficiency levels by 2014.

Minnesota's plan for complying with the law defines proficient as a score of 1,420 or better on the MCAs. A recent state projection put the likely number of schools on the list at more than 400. Commissioner Yecke says now only about 200 schools will likely be identified.

One factor is a change in the way the state will calculate the scores of special education students. The overall rising scores are another factor. Yecke says the new accountability system is already working in schools.

"People know accountability is coming. They know that No Child Left Behind is all about accountability. And so there's now a dedicated effort to ensure that those students on the bottom quartile, or those students who are the lowest performing, are getting the help that they need," says Yecke.

The state Education Department will notify schools June 30 of their status on the adequate yearly progress list. District leaders then get a chance to correct data or appeal their status. The information won't be made public until early August.

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