by Howard Lestrud
ECM Political Editor
National test results released Thursday, Nov. 7, revealed that Minnesota fourth-grade students recorded the best math scores in the country.
These results were compiled by the National Assessment of Education Progress, NAEP, otherwise known as The Nation’s Report Card.
This report is the largest nationally representative continuing evaluation of the condition of education in the United States. It informs the public about what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas and compares achievement data among states and various student demographic groups.
Gov. Mark Dayton and Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius on Thursday morning announced at a Capitol press conference what they called progress in narrowing Minnesota’s achievement gap between white students and students of color.
Dayton’s appearance was his first in public since he had additional hip surgery two weeks ago.
He opened the press conference by stating that Minnesota is making important progress in narrowing the achievement gap; “however, the need for continued improvement is clearly indicated,” he said.
Dayton applauded Minnesota fourth-graders for leading the nation in math scores and said African American fourth-graders also posted big gains, performing fourth highest among all African American students in the country. This compared to Minnesota’s 22nd place ranking in 2011.
In reading, Minnesota’s fourth-graders were 10th best in 2013, moving up from 22nd place just two years ago. Additionally, the gaps in reading between white students and African American and Spanish-speaking students were reduced by 10 test points, about a 25 percent improvement since 2009. Minnesota eighth-graders ranked fifth best in math and 11th best in reading, posting Minnesota’s best scores ever in math and reading,
Minnesota tested 3,100 fourth-graders and 2,500 eighth-graders. Overall, 800,000 were tested by NAEP.
“Those results tell me,” Dayton said, “that we have made some important progress; however, we still have much more work ahead of us.”
Dayton said he believed that the new initiatives he proposed and the Legislature approved will show even more positive results in the years ahead.
Dayton congratulated the Minnesota students, teachers and parents who were involved in this testing on the successes. He also thanked Minnesotans who approved almost 90 percent of the school referendums last Tuesday, a record high number.
“That money, I can assure you, will be well-spent,” Dayton said.
Cassellius pointed to several initiatives that contributed to this success, including significant investments in early education by Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature, the new “Read Well by Third Grade” law that includes a requirement for every district to create a literacy plan, Minnesota’s waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law, and more rigorous reading and math standards.
“We have always known we have great teachers,” Cassellius said. “Now we are building toolkits and taking the steps we need to make sure that every Minnesota child has what it takes to be successful,” she added.
“The real good news is at fourth grade, making sure that every student is counted,” Cassellius said. “We have set real high standards the past 10 years, and each year it gets better and better.”
Cassellius said Minnesota didn’t see as much progress at eighth grade.
“We know we have had some difficult times the last 10 years, borrowing from schools, cutting programs and having higher class sizes but we have doubled down in our eighth-grade efforts, making sure kids can be better prepared,” Cassellius said. She emphasized those extra efforts, combined with leadership and great teaching, are the things that have made a great difference in showing progress.
Cassellius said Minnesota saw its black-white gap cut in half where it used to be the seventh largest gap. Now, it’s the 13th largest gap.
Cassellius said Minnesota still sees struggles with gaps in the eighth grade; “however, we know if we continue to work on our secondary program and to make sure we are teaching reading and making sure that all kids are reading well at third grade or earlier, our eighth-graders will achieve.”
Despite posting the best scores since Minnesota began recording eighth-grade NAEP scores in math and reading, the older students did not show as much improvement from 2011. The gap between white and African American students in reading is the seventh largest in the nation, while in math the gap between those students is fourth largest.
Still, Minnesota eighth-graders performed among the best in the nation, ranking fifth-best in math and 11th best in reading.
“We are really encouraged by the data today,” Cassellius said.
Minnesota House of Representatives Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, met the media following the press conference led by Dayton and Cassellius. He said Republicans are committed to improving the education of Minnesota students and “we want to make sure we put our students first.”
Acknowledging the impressive improvement in test results, Daudt pointed to policies put in place when Republicans ran the Legislature; policies he said that focused on third-graders reading at grade level.
Daudt said Republican concerns are, “by getting rid of the graduation standard tests and lowering accountability and lowering standards for Minnesota students, we aren’t going to continue seeing improvement in education.”
More information on NAEP is available at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard.
Howard Lestrud can be reached at [email protected].