Each year when the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment results come out, the first thing we do is ask, how are Minnesota kids doing and how are schools performing relative to the previous year? This year, in addition to just lamenting or celebrating the results, it’s been refreshing to see a deeper focus on the why behind them. Why did certain schools make significant progress? Why did schools with excellent reputations lose ground?
In the search for answers to these questions, we uncover an important reason why annual assessments matter. Annual tests allow schools and districts to try new strategies and take an objective look at whether they’re having an impact—ultimately sparking conversations around how to scale up best practices for kids.
Importantly, this year’s conversations about the “why” behind MCA scores began in schools. With the public release of MCA data last week, however, they became public in a way that can benefit Minnesota’s education landscape as whole. For example, a deep dive into the data at Harvest Network of Schools is driving them to prioritize an extended school day, special education staffing and student retention.
At Friendship Academy of the Arts, which now tops the Star Tribune’s list of “beating the odds” schools, there has been significant growth in student proficiency over the past few years. In a recent Generation Next blog, Friendship staff attribute much of their success to careful alignment between lesson plans and state standards, while making space to adapt instruction to individual student learning styles. At Lucy Craft Laney Community School, while many students are still deemed “not proficient,” pulling apart the data reveals that the school’s co-teaching model is moving students along the continuum, with many more at least partially meeting state standards in 2015.
At MinnCAN, our core belief is that all kids can succeed. That belief is important. Equally important is addressing why some schools are making it happen while others are struggling, and how we can replicate successful models and strategies. It’s great to see so many schools focusing on these questions now that the MCA results are out, and as always, we’ll be working with educators, parents, advocates and community members to develop strategies for building on schools’ successes and advocating for state policy to expand them. If you have ideas or your own analysis to share, I hope you’ll get in touch.
In the meantime, we’ve complied an MCA data overview that takes a statewide view. While it shows that we’ve got a long way to go, my hope is that we can all build on lessons learned to build stronger, more equitable schools across Minnesota. As long as we’re willing to listen, reflect and adapt both policy and practice to build off of lessons learned, the MCAs have a lot to teach us, not just about how our schools are doing, but why.