SCTimes: St. Cloud Area MCA Results article (&Link)

Aug 3, 2015 | St. Cloud

St. Cloud schools show gap in almost every area of MCAs

by Keven Allenspach

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One of the primary issues for St. Cloud schools in recent years has been an achievement gap between white and black students. On Tuesday, the Minnesota Department of Education released scores for an annual measure that indicate a gap of some sort exists between virtually every St. Cloud student group and the state average — regardless of color, income, sex, language, mobility or special needs.

Scores for the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, which include tests in math, reading and science, are required by state and federal law to help gauge progress. All St. Cloud students combined increased their reading performance to 47.1 percent proficiency from their 2014 percentage of 46.9.

However, proficiency percentages fell in math (to 46.6 from 49.1) and science (to 40.4 from 44.7). Scores on all three tests, for all grades and all major ways of categorization, ranked below the state average for public schools. State averages, meanwhile, stayed almost flat in reading and science and fell 1.3 percent in math.

Of the three other major St. Cloud metro area school districts, students in Sartell-St. Stephen and Rocori beat the state average on all tests. Students in Sauk Rapids-Rice topped the state average in math and reading but not science.

That leads you to wonder what might be different in St. Cloud.

"That's a good question — one that we grapple with a lot," St. Cloud Schools Assistant Superintendent Marsha Baisch said. "Our demographics are who we are. I don't want to make excuses about who's in our schools. We celebrate that. Knowing that, we're challenged with ensuring we can meet the needs of all of our learners."

In some cases, the margin was close. Of St. Cloud students who are not eligible for free and reduced lunch, 71.5 percent were proficient in math, 68.8 percent in reading and 64.7 percent in science. Yet the state average proficiency percentages for similar students were 72.7, 71.9 and 65.4, respectively.

In other areas, there is a chasm between St. Cloud and the state average. Students eligible for limited English proficiency services were less than half as likely to be proficient in St. Cloud than in other districts around the state.

And then there is the racial achievement gap. While white students as a whole in St. Cloud didn't achieve the state average on any of the tests, they were within 6 percentage points on each. Black students, which include five ethnicities, weren't within 14 percent of the state average on any test. While 56.1 percent of white students were proficient in science, 9.6 percent of black students were proficient. In math, it was 62.1 percent proficiency for whites and 16.5 for blacks. In reading, 61.9 percent of whites were proficient, with 19 percent of black students meeting that mark.

"It's a big concern," Baisch said. "I'm not going to try to say it any other way. We're keenly aware of it and know we have work to do. We believe we've identified strategies that are going to make a difference."

Those include data teams that meet among teachers every other week to look at assessments, review how students are doing and plan different instruction. The district also has installed co-teaching opportunities and identified academic coaches, Baisch said.

Further, the district is in the midst of two curriculum changes — a reading program introduced last year and math beginning this fall.

"A lot of times you see a dip in scores when you introduce something, as students and teachers are learning it, but we saw a slight increase," said Lori Posch, director of curriculum, who oversees staff development. "We've recognized we need to look at some more up-to-date instructional materials because what we had was old and didn't necessarily match the standards. Our school board support for that has been great the last couple of years."

Students in grades 3-8 and grade 11 take the math test. The reading test is administered to students in grades 3-8 and 10. The science test includes grades 5, 8 and high school students in the year they take a life sciences prerequisite.

Education Commissioner Brenda Casellius told reporters on a conference call Monday that an independent study of disruptions in online testing this spring did not show evidence that it affected students. Nonetheless, she said her department is working with the testing vendor, Pearson, to determine financial consequences and possible changes for 2016. Pearson last year entered a three-year, $38 million contract to administer the tests for the state.

All of the results are available on the MDE website at under the data center menu. In addition to the raw data, you can also go to a report card view at and make side-by-side comparisons for any school in the state.

"We have a lot of students who come in at a different starting point," Posch said. "That's why we want to look at the growth part of it. Will we be below average in some areas? Probably for a while until we can get everything in line. But it also brings a lot of opportunities for us."

The MCA results reflect a point in time. The Multiple Measurement Rating and Adequate Yearly Progress scores will be available in early September and should more accurately show how some St. Cloud student groups have improved, Baisch said.

"It's important to look at last year's data and this year's and see what the trend is," Baisch said. "The line should be moving up. We welcome this — accountability is not something I believe any of us shy away from. I think it only makes us better and we owe it to our students.

"I want our community to feel that this isn't a bleak story about St. Cloud," she added. "There really are successes in this district. There are many, many, many students who are doing very well. I want that to be the story. Yes, we have work to do. We have student groups that are not performing well and we have areas of concern. But we're on par with our neighboring districts in certain sub-groups and we're seeing an upward trend in reading — especially at the elementary levels. I want the community to feel confident they're getting their students' needs met."