Minneapolis students make slight gains on state tests

Greater improvement seen in Southwest

Minneapolis students scored slightly better on state math and reading tests this year compared to last year, reflecting a trend seen around the state, according to figures released by the Minnesota Department of Education.

The gains were too small, though, to prevent more Minneapolis schools from missing student achievement benchmarks under the federal No Child Left Behind law, said David Heistad, director of testing and research for Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS).

“Across the state, in Minneapolis and St. Paul, you’re going to see many more schools failing to hit the AYP targets,” Heistad predicted, referring to “adequate yearly progress,” a measure of student improvement. Schools that fail to make AYP face escalating sanctions under No Child Left Behind.

Another area of concern for MPS are the large and persistent achievement gaps that generally show white and Asian students outperforming their African American, American Indian and Hispanic peers.

“We’ve set strategic goals to reduce the gaps by 70 percent by 2010, and we’re not seeing that kind of growth, yet,” Heistad said.

Minnesota students in grades 3–8 and grade 10 took the reading test. The math test was administered in grades 3-–8 and grade 11.

The Minnesota Department of Education reported too-small gains in student performance, and student achievement gaps were seen across the state, not just in Minneapolis. Still, the results of the math and reading tests, known as the MCA-II assessments, weren’t all bad news — especially for Southwest-area public schools.

“Of those schools that made progress, most of them were [in] the Southwest or the Southeast areas of the city,” Heistad said. “We do see incremental growth for many schools, but some of the larger-gaining schools were on the Southwest side.”

Armatage, Bryn Mawr and Jefferson community schools, as well as Park View Montessori School, were among those that made the largest gains on both the reading and math tests. (See accompanying chart for more information.)

The district made much smaller gains, on average. As a whole, MPS saw a 1 percent increase in the number of students who met or exceeded the standards on both the MCA-II assessments.

“While that’s a good direction to go, it’s not as much as we had hoped for,” Heistad said.

This year, 49 percent of MPS students met or exceeded standards on the reading test compared to 71 percent of all the state’s students. Only 46 percent of MPS students met or exceeded standards on the math test compared to the state average of 62 percent.

MPS tends to lag behind the state on MCA-II performance. That is explained, in part, by demographic factors like the relatively high rates of poverty among MPS students and students in other urban districts, Heistad said.

“The highest correlation with test scores is poverty” among all demographic factors, he said.

Students for whom English is not their first language also tend to score lower on standardized tests, yet some MPS schools were able to overcome those challenges. One was Lyndale Community School, which Heistad said “made exceptional progress” in 2008.

“You’ll find in the midst of high-poverty areas some schools that are really shining,” he said.