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Number of MN students opted out of testing triples as achievement stays flat

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There's been little sign of improvement among Minnesota students the past year, with test scores staying pretty flat and the achievement gap still wide.

The Minnesota Department of Education released the scores for 2016's Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA) on Thursday, revealing statewide reading scores increased slightly among students of all ages, math scores declined slightly, and science scores were up.

At the same time, more students than every opted out of taking the tests amid parent, teacher and student skepticism over how effectively they measure progress and knowledge (more on that below).

The slight uptick in achievement wasn't enough to satisfy education commissioner Brenda Cassellius, nor is the achievement gap that remains between white students and students of color.

"It is disappointing to see the slow pace of progress," Cassellius said. "But those of us who do this work every day remain undeterred in our goal, which is to guarantee an excellent and equitable education for every Minnesota student."

Cassellius said it cannot be just on the schools alone to close the achievement gap, saying more needs to be done to support families from birth, ensuring they have access to high-quality childcare, early education, stable housing, health care, fair wages and economic opportunity.

"Closing achievement gaps is possible, but I am becoming increasingly convinced that we cannot do it alone. The only way we will close these stubborn gaps is if we address with equal urgency the opportunity gaps outside of school that impact children’s likelihood of school success," she added.

Here's how Minnesotan students performed:

  • 60 percent in grades three-eight and 10 rated "proficient" in the reading MCA, up from 59 percent last year and 58 percent in 2013.
  • 61 percent of grades three-eight were proficient in math, down from 62 percent last year, but up 3 percent on 2011.
  • In grade 11 math, scores dropped 2 percent on last year.
  • 55 percent in grades five-eight ranked proficient in science, up from 53 percent last year and 50 percent in 2012.
  • Racial disparities in reading and math remain largely unchanged since 2013 and 2011, respectively.

Parents hit back at testing, withdraw kids

A growing number of parents are opting their children out of taking the MCA, a sign according to the Department of Education that many do not feel the tests are an accurate reflection of achievement.

In spring, 2,227 11th graders were opted out of the math MCA, triple the 694 who opted out in 2015.

Just three years ago, only 19 students were opted out statewide. In reading, 1,404 students were opted out this spring, compared to 763 in 2015 and only 11 in 2013.

"The record number of students opting out of tests this year reflects the growing sentiment by teachers, parents and students that one single test is not an effective measure of student knowledge," Cassellius said.

Education Minnesota, an organization of teachers and professionals in state schools, was critical of the latest data and the MCAs as a whole.

"The MCA results arrive too late to help any individual teacher or student, and we still don't know what the aggregated data actually measure," Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said on Facebook. "Are we quantifying a mismatch between what was taught and tested? Did the school buy the right test prep materials? Are we testing what the students learned, or just the students' skill at taking tests?"

"It is always frustrating to see how little useful data we get for all the time and taxpayer money spent on standardized tests," she told FOX 9.

The Star Tribune has delved more into the statistics and breaks down achievement depending on economic status and ethnic background, you can find its analysis here.

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