District 834 MCA scores drop slightly, stay above state average

Proposed changes could affect Dist. 834 when students opt out in the future

The results of the 2017 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA) are giving the Stillwater Area School District an idea of where students are making achievements in education and where the district needs to focus on improvement. The scores were released last week.

“Our principals and their teams just started [Aug. 9] digging into the data and looking for what we should be focusing on,” said Dr. Robert McDowell, executive director of learning and innovation for Stillwater Area Public Schools.

McDowell explained that the MCA is a tool educators use to determine if students are meeting academic standards and whether students are growing in their proficiency based on academic standards year to year.

“It’s not just about achievement data, but the longitudinal achievement data, as well,” McDowell said.

In the district overall, students had a slight decreases in science, reading and math scores. However, the overall scores were all above the statewide average.

Math scores decreased by 1.5 percentage points to 68.9 percent proficient; reading scores decreased by 0.4 percentage points to 70.4 percent proficient; and science scores decreased by 0.5 percentage points to 63.8 percent proficient.

McDowell said a small decrease or increase in overall proficiency doesn’t tell educators much about the academic growth of individual students.

“We are maintaining — we are not really gaining or losing proficiency,” McDowell said. “What we are focusing on is student growth, whether it is high medium or low growth. We want to move students from low and medium growth into high growth.”

The data also showed a slight decrease in the percentage of students from the class of 2016 who graduated in 2016, compared the previous year’s class — 86.4 percent graduated, a decrease of 1.3 percent.

“It’s a small drop in the graduation rate, but when you look at the six-year rate, it’s 93.2 percent,” McDowell said. “Those students that do not graduate do end up sticking around and graduating in a five- or six-year rate.”

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

“Test scores are just one part of the picture to understand how students are doing in Minnesota,” said Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius in a written. “It’s frustrating to see test scores slowly increasing over time, but there’s more to providing a student with a well-rounded education than can be seen in a test.”

State changes could affect district

The state department of education is currently in the process of drafting a plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and is required to submit its plan to the U.S. Department of Education in September 2017. Some proposed changes to the state’s MCA data reporting could affect school districts’ accountability requirements.

Currently, students who choose to opt out of the standardized test are not included in the calculation of proficiency — but that could change under the new plan.

“In the current proposal, students that opt out of the MCA would count against the district, but that is not how it is calculated for this year,” McDowell said. “So that throws off the numbers.”

The proposed change could have serious implications for the district’s accountability reporting. In Stillwater Area Schools, about 3.1 percent of students opted out of the 2016 MCA, compared to 2 percent of students statewide. However — according to district records — the largest number of students withdrawing from the MCA in 2017 was at Stillwater Area High School, with 130 out of the 613 students in grade 11 opting out of the math test. District staff reported that the high school math opt-outs are primarily due to students taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams during a similar testing window.

At a state level, an increasing number of students are also choosing to opt out of the grade 11 test. This spring, 2,227 11th-graders chose not to take the math MCA — up from 694 last year. In 2013, only 19 students opted out of the grade 11 math test statewide.

Should the state go ahead with its proposed ESSA plan, the data reporting, school improvement and accountability requirements would take effect in the 2018-2019 school year. The proposed plan is currently in a 30-day public comment period that began Aug. 1, and the entire plan can be viewed online at education.state.mn.us.

District administration will include MCA analysis at its annual “World’s Best Workforce” presentation to the school board at an October business meeting.

Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]