Test scores flat in MPS; leaders not pleased

State test scores remained flat in Minneapolis Public Schools this past school year, and district leaders aren’t pleased.

About 9,395 students were not reading or able to do math at their grade level, according to Superintendent Ed Graff. He called it “not acceptable.”

“Anyone who cares about kids can’t be happy with our results,” he said.

Graff said the district will acknowledge the challenge with achievement but focus specifically on the individual student. He cited the district’s literacy work, which includes a new, district-wide pre-K–5 literacy curriculum, and efforts in social-emotional learning, equity and “multi-tiered systems of support,” also known as MTSS. MTSS is the idea of instilling practices that ensure students have high-quality instruction while differentiating that instruction to support individual students, Graff said.

“Without that, it’s catch as catch can, and we’re not working in that manner effectively,” he said.

The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments occur once a year, but the district doesn’t want to wait that long to assess students, Graff said. He said MPS has a new screening tool, called the FAST, that allows teachers to get information about where students are and adjust.

“That, to me, is really going to be a game-changer,” he said.

Graff recognized there are pockets of success within the district and that many staff members are doing great work. But he circled back to the students who aren’t at grade level.

“We’ve got to do things differently,” he said. “That’s the commitment that we’re here to make. It’s not a quick turnaround, it’s not a fix for tomorrow, it’s addressing it today and being here for the long haul.”

Statewide, MCA scores showed little change from last year, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. Math scores decreased slightly for some grade levels and remained constant for others. Reading scores remained largely the same.

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said in a statement that test scores are just one part of the picture to understanding student achievement. But she conceded that it’s frustrating to see the slow growth.

Cassellius cited “ambitious” goals to address achievement gaps in a draft plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The plan will evaluate all Minnesota schools in five areas: student achievement on tests, academic progress over time, graduation rates, progress toward English language proficiency and constant attendance.

The Education Department released the standardized test scores Aug. 7. Students in grades 3–11 take the tests, which measure performance in reading, math and science.

Statewide, about 60 percent of students were proficient in reading and math, and about 54 percent were proficient in science. Rates were lower for students of color and higher for white students.

MPS’ proficiency rates were below the statewide averages, and the gap in achievement was even starker between white students and those of color. About 78 percent of white students met or exceeded the reading standards, for example, compared to 22 percent of black students, 26.5 percent of Hispanic/Latino students and 51.5 percent of students who identified as two or more races.