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Minnesota science test scores: ‘Encouraging gains,’ but still troubling results

We could celebrate the fact that Minnesota students’ scores on a state science test improved this year — if not for the fact that barely half (49 percent) of the students who took the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments II science test were able to meet state science standards.

These results, released Tuesday, came on the heels of an earlier Minnesota Department of Education report saying that just 43 percent of the state’s 11th graders were proficient in math on a similar test this year.

Still, Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren looked on the ever-so-slender bright side. She noted in the release of the science test results that the overall percentage of students who did well enough on this year’s science test to be considered proficient increased between 1 and 5 percentage points over last year.

The science test was given this spring to about 178,500 students in grades 5, 8 and high school.

“Minnesota’s focus on rigorous science education is showing steady gains in student achievement,” Seagren said.

In particular, she said, minority students in eighth grade and high school showed “encouraging gains.”

But she added, “We must continue our efforts to prepare all Minnesota students for success after high school.”

Surrounded by science and technology
Indeed. Study after study shows that Minnesota’s jobs of tomorrow will be for well-educated workers. See this MinnPost report on one study concluding that the state is second in the nation in its need for a well-educated workforce by 2018, behind only Washington D.C.

And you don’t need a pile of studies to show that being well-educated increasingly means being proficient in math, science and technology. Just look at the technical complexity of your car, your home and your neighborhood school.

We are surrounded by science and technology. We love products made by those who are proficient, and we reward those proficient people handsomely in salaries and job security. But too few students are willing to do the sometimes-grueling, sometimes-fascinating work it takes to join their ranks.

Reason to applaud
Minnesota’s science standards define what students should know and be able to do in a particular grade. But students can graduate without having met the standards.

Beyond the fact that far too many kids fall short of the standards, this year’s results do give reason to applaud students and their teachers for some gains:

• For high school, 51.8 percent of students met proficiency standards on the science test compared to 49.5 percent in 2009.

• Eighth-graders improved 5 percentage points to nearly 48 percent of students who were proficient, compared to 43 percent in 2009.

• Forty-six percent of fifth-grade students were proficient, compared to approximately 45 percent in 2009.

• Encouraging gains were made in minority test results, including a 5 percentage point gain by African-American eighth-grade students and a 4 percentage point increase by Hispanic eighth-grade students, a 3 percentage point increase by American Indian eighth-grade students.

In math: razor-thin improvements
The separate math test was given to more than 426,000 students in grades three through eight and also grade 11. On that test too, students improved their scores over last year. But here again the improvement was razor thin.

“After significant gains in 2009, the grade eleven math results showed only a modest improvement,” the education department noted in releasing the results.

The Legislature eliminated the graduation requirement for high school math in 2009.

One baffling problem for math teachers is how much proficiency drops off as students hit the higher grades. Third graders seem to get it. Eleventh graders do not.

Maybe it’s because expectations rise in the higher grades. But it’s also true that math becomes un-cool, not hip as kids get older.

Math MCA-II – Percentage of Students Proficient by Grade

























Minority students made significant gains on the math test in certain grades this year, the department reported. In sixth grade, for example, African-American students scored a 5 percent gain; Hispanic students, 6 percent.

More information
To check out your school on state test results, go here.

And you can go here [PDF] to see detailed charts on the math proficiency test.

Comments (5)

  1. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 07/27/2010 - 11:55 am.

    Wondering what the breakdown is between charter schools and regular public schools. And data on that?

  2. Submitted by David Willard on 07/27/2010 - 10:50 pm.

    I bet this means that more money is the answer. I took time with my kids because I love them and they are my responsibility since they are my kids. When they were babies and toddlers I read to them, played games with them and taught them math without them even knowing. (How many girls with black hair are waiting to slide? Is it half less than half? how many boys are playing basketball? 6/10?) How many have white shoes in the playground?) Jeez, if you can’t teach your kids all the time, if subtly, why have kids? I refuse to take responsibility for those who just pop ’em out. I had a disinterested wife for twenty years. “Kids raise themselves,” she said…and she was from Edina!

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/28/2010 - 08:23 am.

    Is this an indication that NCLB works? That’s as good an explaination as any.

  4. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 07/28/2010 - 08:47 am.

    What is desperately needed for our kids is “comprehensive education reform.”

    We need to invest in kids instead of the trickle down, special interest education system we currently empower.

    With reform, maybe our kids can have the same kind of education that President Obama received and the kind of education his children currently receive.

  5. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 07/29/2010 - 06:51 am.

    The collapse in the public schools is a side effect of greater opportunity for women. The schools used to be largely run and almost entirely staffed by ridiculously overqualified women. I doubt their granddaughters have followed them.

    Double the pay for new hires. Current teachers can compete with the newcomers for the higher pay, but they must give up tenure to do so. If they choose to retain tenure, they get their old pay.

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