This week, the Minnesota Department of Education released the results of the 2014 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment, which kids take each year to measure their progress in core subjects. And, once again, the results reveal a stark achievement gap between students of color and their white peers—a clear call to action for educators and policymakers.
The good news: in 2014, scores generally moved in the right direction. Reading and third-to-eighth grade math proficiency edged up across the board, but the changes were modest. Overall reading scores budged just over a single percentage point, while math scores crept up half a percent. While 11th grade math scores dropped for everyone but Latinos, eleventh-graders took a new version of the test that can’t be accurately compared to the previous version.
The bad news: modest improvements mean that proficiency rates for students of color are still startlingly low. For example, 33.2 percent of black students were proficient in reading this year, up just slightly from 32.1 percent in 2013. Imagine that we keep moving in the right direction every year at this slow but steady pace. In 30 years, black students will finally catch up to where white students are today—and still, only two-thirds will be proficient.
This is why our work is so urgent, and why it’s important that we have a consistent, objective measure of achievement. Grounded in our state academic standards, the MCAs tell us where students are today and how ready they are for the future. As the Minnesota Office of Higher Education’s “Getting Prepared” report shows, students who are proficient on the MCAs are much more likely to enroll in college and avoid remediation at the college level.
The debate around testing is hot, and raises important questions about when and how we assess our students. But the bottom line is that tests are a critical tool for evaluating how our students are doing over time, across districts and across demographic groups.
It’s important to get testing right, and to this end, Minnesota has recently made changes to improve the MCAs. It’s important, too, to measure our state’s progress year over year, so that we fully understand the headway we’re making and where there are lingering achievement gaps.
For now, we should keep the new version of the MCAs in place so that we can make these meaningful comparisons and develop strategies to help all kids succeed. At the same time, let’s re-frame the debate to explore how we can get testing right. We’ve blogged before on how we can do this, and we hope you’ll join us in the conversation.