School test scores provide a tool to close performance gaps

Mike KnaakEditorial, Print Sartell - St. Stephen, Print St. Joseph0 Comments

For those of you who like to keep score, the latest test results for Minnesota’s schools were released last week.

Called the Minnesota Report Card from the state Department of Education, the scores measure the performance of the state’s 890,000 students based on five indicators – achievement and progress on state reading and math tests over time, progress toward English language proficiency, graduation rates and consistent attendance.

The results recognize top performers as well as highlight areas that need improvement and attention.

Scores for individual schools or districts make it easy to compare student performance. But focusing on the topline score for such indicators as overall achievement in math or reading or graduation rates is a mistake.

Teachers and administrators know this. While they are proud of high scores, they quickly point out that continued effort is needed to maintain those results. More importantly, they emphasize using the results to diagnose areas for improvements.

As taxpayers and parents, we should look at those details as well.

For example, even though the Sartell-St. Stephen school district performs well overall, there are programs that need support.

Special-education students and students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals score well below the general student population. Those two groups account for 382 students, a significant population. The new Sartell High School addresses one of those needs. Administrators think the additional space and programs in the new building will improve the special-education score.

In the St. Cloud school district, there are wide swings in individual school scores as well as in each school’s student groups.

Kennedy Community School in St. Joseph scores twice as high (52.76 percent) as Lincoln and Discovery in the percentage of students meeting or exceeding math achievement. But for Kennedy’s 68 English learners, that achievement score drops to 20.58 percent.

The St. Cloud school district also has challenges that are typical across the state for students who quality for free or reduced-price meals.

The report also records chronic absenteeism and how it correlates with performance.

School leaders rightly celebrate accomplishments of high-achieving students such as the number of students taking Advanced Placement classes or ACT scores.

But public schools serve all students and the challenge is to devise programs that raise scores for everyone. The biggest challenges are time and money.

Teachers and administrators are well aware of these challenges.

Whether we are parents of school-age children or not, the rest of us must focus on closing the performance gaps.

Minnesota’s public schools serve their most diverse generation of students.

Pulling out tests scores for all students and making comparisons between school districts with widely differing social and economic conditions is dangerous. Even comparing schools in the same district risks misusing the detailed information in the test results.

Closing the performance gaps requires a funding commitment but also a community-wide approach…beyond what goes on in the classroom. Efforts to close gaps start with social issues such as English learners or economic challenges of reducing the number of families who need free school meals.

Test scores should not be viewed merely as a performance measurement but more importantly they should help citizens and their elected leaders diagnose where society needs to focus efforts that result in high performance for all students. 

 

Author: Mike Knaak

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