The Minnesota Department of Education released the latest round of students assessment scores last week.

The Minnesota Department of Education released the latest round of students assessment scores last week.

Results of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests, or MCAs, are one measure of how well students, as well as their schools and teachers, are performing.

The MCA test results break down proficiency in math and reading, beginning with grade 3.

Usually, students taking the annual MCA test perform better on the reading portion than the math. But the new rigorous state reading standards–adopted to help ensure college and career readiness–resulted in a slight decline in this year’s results. The state education department warned parents to expect a dip in reading scores this year because it was the first time students were tested on more stringent national standards.

According to Sleepy Eye Public School Superintendent John Cselovszki, there was about a 20 percent drop in reading scores in the local district, which is better than the 25 percent drop in scores for the statewide average.

Overall, Cselovszki said he is pleased with the scores that in most cases, still exceeded the state averages.

Many times when test scores are announced, District 84 is compared with schools around the area. Cselovszki said a more accurate comparison would be with schools such as St. James, Mountain Lake and Butterfield, who more closely resemble the same demographic population of District 84.

“Comparing District 84 to similar districts with the same demographic make-up shows just how far we’ve come and how successful we are,” Cselovszki said. “I believe we are definitely moving forward to closing the achievement gap. These test scores speak volumes.” 

Headstart on learning

Cselovszki credits the increase in test scores in the past several years to two things–an early start on the school year and a staff who is invested in the curriculum.

According to Cselovszki, five years ago the district brought in an independent auditor to look at how the district could improve their teaching standards. Armed with a new way of thinking, a curriculum committee was formed and teachers began looking at how to teach the standard skills required on the state tests, write the curriculum and find the materials that will best teach those skills.

“We call it a backward design,” said Co-Curriculum Coordinator Nancy Moohr. “What happens in that process is that teachers have a better look at what essentials they have to teach and can find ways to group those skill sets together in one lesson.” 

Cselovszki noted the added seven to 10 days of learning that the Sleepy Eye district receives since enrolling in the Flexible Learning Year (FLY) plan can be seen with the increase on test scores.

Despite many early-starting districts shortening school days in the beginning due to extreme heat, District 84, with their climate controlled school was able to hold full days.

“The seven to 10 day advantage of learning we have over other districts that begin after Labor Day really makes a difference. I 100 percent believe in starting early. I have seen the benefits and our test scores are tremendous,” Cselovszki added.

Teaching essentials

MDE Commissioner Brenda Cassellius noted that after the recent redesign of the reading test the goal post needs to stop moving so teachers can focus their efforts and students have a more consistent target to hit.

Cselovszki couldn’t agree more.

“Standards are essential pieces of information that student’s need to know in this global society,” he said. “What is being taught in the district are building blocks to compete at an international level. We are preparing students to be able to do well and further educate themselves after high school in a global society. We owe that to our children.”