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MCAs show significant increase in high school science; steady scores in math, reading

Aug. 29, 2019 - This year’s MCA science scores for Edina High School (EHS) are the highest ever and while teachers and administrators are very pleased, they are not completely surprised. They believe the more than 20 point increase over last year’s proficiency rate is the culmination of years of work by the EHS biology teachers and a unique opportunity presented to students. Last year, the MCA science test was incorporated into the grading structure for biology, giving students opportunity and choice, and it appears to have made a difference.

Data for the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) are one part of the 2019 North Start Accountability Report, released by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) on Aug. 29. MCAs measure school’s alignment with state standards and are used to meet federal and state legislative requirements. MCA tests are taken in the spring by public school students in grades 3-8 and 10 for reading; grades 3- 8 and 11 for math; and grades 5, 8 and 10 or 11 for science. Parents may “opt out” their students from taking MCA tests for any reason. The North Star report also includes MDE’s State of Our Students that compiles additional data from multiple measures to paint a more comprehensive picture of students.

Based on the MDE reports, EPS continues to be among the highest performing districts in the state. Overall, the district continues to significantly outperform state averages in reading, mathematics and science.

EHS Science Score

The MCA testing window comes just before AP and ACT testing for college bound juniors and seniors. In the past, numerous high school students opted out of MCAs or were not invested in the outcomes, which they know do not influence college admission or scholarship award. EHS biology teachers thought that student choice could be a way to more fully engage students in the MCA test, providing incentive to not only participate in the assessment but to do their best work.

The biology teacher team of five teachers has been together for three years and Randy Smasal, director of teaching and learning, credits a cohesive relationship for helping to imagine new approaches to helping their students’ succeed. “The team has moved from collegiality and cooperation to aligned collaboration,” said Smasal. “The group established an authentic rapport with students which has increased engagement and student motivation in learning.”

Early last year, the teachers, along with Principal Andy Beaton, talked about how to make MCA tests meaningful to students. The result was a formula for including it as a component of the course’s final exam.

The biology final is 20% of the course grade, of which the MCA counted as 10%. Students who met or exceeded proficiency could choose to have the MCA stand in as their final exam, 20%. Or they could choose to attempt to raise their grade and take the teacher-created final, counting as the other 10% of the final. Students who did not meet standards proficiency were required to take the teacher final. Students also could opt out of the MCA. This year, 595 students took the science MCA and nine opted out. (Opt outs are counted as “does not meet standards” on the school’s MCA report.)

“Our students are focused on the ACT and AP tests and we have many more kids taking AP than other districts,” said Beaton. “Giving them a choice gave them some control over how many tests they were taking and incentive to do well because it ‘counted.’ ”

After seeing success with the EHS science scores, Smasal said the district will be looking at ways to create similar testing conditions, especially at the secondary level where opt-outs are highest and increasing.

EHS math and reading scores also went up: 6.1 and 1.7 percentage points, respectively. Nearly all student groups saw increases, significantly reducing the achievement gap. Smasal and Beaton credit academic support programs, changes in testing environment and protocol as contributing factors.

Elementary, Middle School Scores

Elementary and middle school reading and math scores held steady overall – good results given curricular changes in process and the loss of five instructional days due to weather, all of which impacts results. New reading and math curricula being implemented are more closely aligned with state standards, replacing curricula that had been in place for decades. Full implementation is a process that takes three to five years. An “implementation dip” in test scores during the curriculum transition process is not uncommon.

The district’s average MCA reading scores held steady at 77.5 percent proficiency, 18.3 points higher than the state average. This year the district begins the fourth year of implementation of new literacy materials and will begin to use new tools in the early grades to address needs for phonics instruction. Professional development for teachers around the new curriculum will continue this year and include opportunity to work with master teachers in the subject.

The district’s average MCA math score also held steady at 76.5 percent proficiency, 21.5 points above the state average. This is the second year of curriculum implementation of new curriculum and there are early signs of student success. Additional practice resources will also be implemented that will supplement the new materials during the curriculum transition. Many professional development opportunities will support teachers during this early phase of implementation.

Averaged elementary and middle school science scores show drops of about 2 percentage points overall. Teacher and administrative teams are examining the data for understanding of what led to lower scores and where improvements are needed.

Families will receive official MCA results letters in the mail from MDE in September.