Daniel Sellers was MinnCAN’s executive director from 2012-2016.

Last month Governor Dayton and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius rightly celebrated gains in student test scores on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” We should take time to recognize when our state’s students make progress–and laud educators, schools and communities for the fact that Minnesota’s fourth-grade students posted the highest math scores in the country.

Taking a moment to celebrate, however, shouldn’t distract our focus from a more urgent, “all hands on deck” goal (one which we’re far from accomplishing): ensuring that all students in Minnesota achieve academically.  

Buried underneath the hoopla and headlines over recent gains, we see evidence that Minnesota’s students of color aren’t just trailing their white peers as they find themselves on the wrong side of often growing achievement gaps… kids of color are, in many cases, doing worse here in Minnesota than their peers across the country. 

For an average black fourth-grader learning to read, the numbers show they’d be better off as a student in Florida or Texas than in Minnesota. For Latino fourth-grade reading scores, Georgia and Arkansas outperform Minnesota. For Asian students, there are only four states that Minnesota does better than, meaning you might be better off attending school almost anywhere but here.

The same is true for eighth-grade reading and math scores: Minnesota’s students of color consistently score in the middle of the pack as compared to students with the same racial background in other states. As you go down the list, it’s shocking to see which states fare better than us: states in the south, such as Mississippi, Louisiana and North Carolina, produce better results for students of color than Minnesota–a state that prides itself on strong public schools. 

Do we really deserve the reputation as an education leader if we’re lagging behind so many other states when it comes to educating our most often underserved kids?

Indeed, we should celebrate the fact that our white students are doing well, especially in fourth- and eighth-grade mathematics. Our black and Latino students, too, demonstrated improvement in fourth-grade math (their scores put Minnesota in second and 15th place, respectively). Also encouraging: some racial achievement gaps within the state are narrowing. 

Beyond these positive notes, however, the numbers don’t demonstrate that Minnesota is the education frontrunner we like to think of ourselves as. In recent weeks, this is evidenced by Minnesota not making NAEP headlines on the national scene–those spots were reserved for Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Tennessee, among a few others. If we’re going to turn around the prospects for kids of color and low-income students in this state, we need to be honest about our performance and recognize that many other U.S. states are better educating low-income, Native and minority children. We should more carefully consider their best practices as solutions for Minnesota, too.

You can’t solve a problem if you don’t acknowledge that one exists.

Data–a deeper look

Per the Nation’s Report Card, the first set of data below outlines Minnesota’s performance in each racial subgroup compared to the rest of the states and D.C. The second set of data examines Minnesota’s changing achievement gaps. Some are shrinking, but some a widening. 

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2011 and 2013 Reading and Mathematics Assessments.

Note: Data for white students includes all 50 states and D.C.; data for the other subgroups leaves out any states that did not have scores reported for those groups, based on sample size. The number of reported states is noted for each subgroup.

Key takeaways:

  • Minnesota consistently ranks near the top of states in white student performance
  • Minnesota consistently ranks near the bottom of states in Asian student performance
  • Performance, as compared to other states, by Minnesota’s black and Latino students is mixed:
  1. Minnesota black students did very well compared to other black students in fourth-grade math
  2. Minnesota Latino students rank near the bottom when compared to Latino students in other states in eighth-grade reading
  3. Other subjects for both groups are near the middle of the pack
  • The achievement gap is shrinking since 2011 in the following areas:
  1. Black students, fourth-grade math
  2. Latino and Asian students, eighth-grade math
  3. Black, Latino and Asian students, fourth-grade reading
  • The achievement gap was unchanged since 2011 for Latino students, fourth-grade math
  • The achievement gap is widening since 2011 in the following areas:
  1. Asian students, fourth-grade math
  2. Black students, eighth-grade math
  3. Black, Latino and Asian students, eighth-grade reading

Data Set #1: Minnesota performance in relation to other states

4th-Grade Mathematics
White: 4th out of 51 (50 states and DC)
Black: 2nd (tie) out of 45
Hispanic: 15th (tie) out of 48
Asian: 29th out of 36 states

8th-Grade Mathematics
White: 4th out of 51
Black: 25th (tie) out of 44
Hispanic: 22nd (tie) out of 47
Asian: 28th out of 33 states

4th-Grade Reading
White: 10th (tie) out of 51
Black: 16th (tie) out of 46
Hispanic: 30th (tie) out of 48
Asian: 32nd (tie) out of 37 states

8th-Grade Reading
White: 10th (tie) out of 51
Black: 22nd (tie) out of 43
Hispanic: 42nd (tie) out of 47
Asian: 28th out of 31 states

Data Set #2: The change in scale score achievement gaps since 2011
























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