Last week the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment results came out, and by and large, scores were flat or even down. In years past, the release of these scores has generated a lot of chatter about what’s behind them: What drives student success, and what levers do schools have to drive change? But this year, many simply seemed frustrated and resigned.
I hope in the coming weeks we can reinvigorate the conversation about “why.” Why, on the whole, are reading scores ticking up while math scores decline? Similarly, as we slowly chip away at proficiency gaps in reading, why are these gaps increasing in math? Schools across the state are implementing strategies that do make a difference, and we must stay focused on elevating and replicating them.
Our state education commissioner made a call for Minnesotans to look outside of school walls to really tackle the problem. According to Commissioner Cassellius, “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.”
The truth is that our schools and teachers play a significant role in students’ lives, and that educators’ work can be transformational, particularly for our most vulnerable students. Cassellius is right that we should make sure that each and every child has the resources and supports to come to school healthy, prepared, secure and ready to learn. I join her in calling on state leaders to build strong social supports for children and families. I hope that leaders in other fields see our stagnant MCA scores and persistent proficiency gaps as yet another call to action on racial equity.
But, as we call on others to join in the fight, let’s not lose our own sense of urgency. We can’t open our school buildings in a month resigned to the notion that we can’t move the needle. We can’t look students in the eye and tell them that the deck is stacked too far against them. Our teachers work hard. They deserve to be seen as change makers and recognized for the many ways that they can help students succeed beyond what the odds might predict.
Earlier this year, we released a report on Asian American student success in Minnesota, where we highlighted the strategies that are driving engagement and outcomes. Two of those schools—Noble Academy and Weaver Elementary—were featured in the Star Tribune for achieving high proficiency rates, despite high numbers of students in poverty. We must continue to recognize and build on these successes.
This is hard work. There is no silver bullet, but we owe it to students, parents and the educators that serve them to believe in the power of schools. Schools alone may not break cycles of inequity, but there is also no way to break those same cycles without thriving schools.