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by Christopher Magan in the Pioneer Press, Duluth News Tribune on Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Minnesota continues to struggle in its quest to slash the student achievement gap in half by 2017, new national test results suggest.

Scores released Wednesday from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, show Minnesota students’ performance in math and reading was mostly stagnant or declined from 2013.

Just a few student groups saw an uptick in scores, but the gains were not large enough to be considered statistically significant.

Minnesota’s lackluster performance on the test was similar to that of much of the nation, but the state’s achievement gap between white and minority students continues to be worse than the national average by almost every measure.

The NAEP, also called the Nation’s Report Card, are tests taken by 552,000 randomly selected fourth- and eighth-graders nationwide every two years. It is considered by many to be one of the most objective measurements of student achievement nationwide.

Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota’s education commissioner, said she doesn’t believe the NAEP was the best measure of Minnesota’s progress closing the achievement gap.

But she said Wednesday’s results showed again that Minnesota must continue to improve how minority students are educated.

“As we become more demographically diverse, that’s been our Achilles heel, and we need to adjust faster,” Cassellius said. “Our focus is making sure every single child has an excellent education.

Cassellius said that when examining the state’s achievement gap, it is important to look at tests taken by a majority of students.

Performance on those tests, the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCAs, was also flat this year. The state’s Multiple Measurement Rating for grading schools showed many were on track to close the achievement gap, but not enough of the schools serve the metro area’s poor and minority students who need the most help.

For Minnesota, fourth-grade reading scores for black and Hispanic students, a bright spot for the state in 2013, took the biggest plunge: down 13 points for blacks and eight for Hispanics.

The declines widened the achievement gap between minority and white students whose scores dipped one point.

Cassellius said the dip in fourth-grade reading scores is likely due to fading excitement surrounding the state’s early literacy push.

“The data today shows we don’t want to back off our strong focus on early literacy,” she said, stressing that state lawmakers recently strengthened oversight of early literacy funding.

Minnesota’s scores did have bright spots. Among them: a significant shrinking of the reading achievement gap between eighth-grade white and Hispanic students.

Overall, Minnesota students’ performance on the NAEP continues to be among the best in the nation.

Those successes are due both to the strong achievement of white students and minority students who often perform better than the national average. However, the gap in achievement between white and minority students remains large.

Daniel Sellers, executive director of the education reform advocate the Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now, or MinnCAN, said the latest results are more evidence the state must embrace unique ways of improving how minority students are educated.

He noted Minnesota’s recent efforts to make it easier to get qualified educators into classrooms by streamlining the process for licensing teachers.

“When it comes to the education of kids of color, we are consistently dropping the ball,” Sellers said.


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