The results of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments were released in early August, revealing that the Forest Lake Area Schools assessment scores for the 2016-17 school year were similar to its 2015-16 scores. However, science scores continue to be a point of pride for the district.
The MCAs are state tests in reading, math, and science that are used to meet federal and state legislative requirements. The tests are administered every year to measure student performance relative to the Minnesota Academic Standards that specify what students in a particular grade should know and be able to do. A full breakdown of individual school scores as well as state averages can be found at rc.education.state.mn.us.
“Overall, MCA results [percentage of students scoring in the “meets standards” and “exceeds standards” ranges] have been flat, especially in reading, at both the state and district levels,” Forest Lake Area School District Testing and Assessment Coordinator Lloyd Komatsu said. “We expect our achievement trend lines to be increasing each year.”
Reading and mathematics tests are administered in grades 3 to 8 and high school (students in grade 10 take the reading MCA, and students in grade 11 take the math MCA). The science MCA is administered to students in grades 5 and 8 and in the high school when students complete a life science or biology course.
“In reading at both the state and district levels, we are not seeing the growth we would like to see at the younger grades,” Komatsu said. “We seem to be making modest gains at the older grades.”
During the four school years ranging from 2013-14 to 2016-17, the overall percentage of Forest Lake students meeting proficiencies in reading were, chronologically, 60.3, 60.1, 60.1, and 59.8. That compares to the statewide averages of 59.1, 59.4, 59.7, and 60.1. When the numbers are broken down, some of the biggest reading changes include a grade 3 drop in proficiency from 62.9 in 2014-15 to 48.5 in 2016-17. The percentage of district students proficient in reading in grade 4 dropped from 57.3 in 2015-16 to 49.8 in 2016-17. Reading proficiency in grade 8 saw a rise from 53.8 percent in 2014-15 to 63.8 in 2016-17. The Forest Lake District saw great numbers in grade 10 proficiency in 2015-16 with 68.1 percent compared to the state average of 58.9, but dropped off in 2016-17 to 61.9 in comparison to the state average of 60.3 percent.
“In regard to math, at both the state and district level, we are not seeing the growth we would like at younger grades,” Komatsu said. “At the state level, we are not seeing the growth we want at the older grades. At the district level, we are making some gains at the older grades.”
The district has seen numbers in mathematical proficiency rise and fall slightly in recent years with a percentage of 65.1 in 2013-14, 64.1 in 2014-15, 65.4 in 2015-16, and 64.8 in 2016-17. The Forest Lake district is, however, riding above the 2016-17 state average of 58.6 percent.
Forest Lake district students are faring well in the science department, with a 2016-17 proficiency rate of 65.1 compared to the state average of only 53.9 percent. Grade 5 students in Forest Lake scored 69.8 percent proficient compared to the state average of 59.9. District high school students soared above the state average of 56.1 with a 76.2 percent proficiency rate.
Komatsu said that school funding at the state level has not kept up with inflationary trends, which he said can negatively affect schools trying to best teach today’s youth.
“The need to keep teachers in front of students has meant that we have not been able to adequately support teachers through professional development and time for collaboration and planning,” he said. “Accelerating changes in technology have meant increased technology needs as we try to keep our students’ learning current.”
He also said that there is an increased need for teacher support and professional development, but he is optimistic about gains that have been made that could positively affect future testing results.
“Rapid changes in the skills and tools students need in order to be ready for future careers means increased needs for professional development for teachers,” Komatsu said. “With our limited support resources, we’ve finally caught up with aligning our curriculum at the elementary level with those state standards that are currently tested by the MCA.”
North Lakes Academy
North Lakes Academy Executive Director Cam Stottler is pleased with MCA results, as he has been able to identify two positive trends relating to the scores.
“Every academic area has increased in score when compared to last year,” he said. “Also, those students who are in the ‘does not meet standards’ category has reduced drastically. So, even the students who are not making the proficiency progress that we would like to see, are still seeing gains.”
A the middle school level of grades 5 to 8, the percent of North Lakes Academy students meeting or exceeding proficiency levels in math rose from 50 to 56.5, in reading rose from 66.9 to 68.4, and in science rose from 57 to 65.6. North Lakes Academy Upper School saw a very large jump in math proficiency from 22.9 to 43.2 percent, in reading from 56.2 to 71.7, and in science from 57.4 to 68 percent.
Stottler said the rise cannot be attributed to any specific tactic, but rather an overall focus on academics across the board.
“We have gotten away from a high focus on MCAs,” he said. “Our philosophy has been how do we just continually teach kids that whatever is in front of you is important. When we ask you to do anything, we are looking for your best effort.”
Stottler also mentioned a stumbling block that was put into place several years ago and has somewhat negatively affected student attitude toward state testing.
“The tough thing about the MCA test is that there is no leverage behind it,” he said. “Scores no longer determine graduation status. Kids do ask us why they need to take it, and the only message we could give them is that this is what goes out to the public to show how we are performing as a school, and we hope that the pride they have in our school will be enough to make them want to do well.”
Lakes International Language Academy
Some of the grade levels at Lakes International Language Academy are in their infancy regarding MCA testing, as this is only the second time that the grade 7 and 8 students have taken the test as members of the LILA student body and the first time for grades 9 to 12, as the school only expanded to include those grade levels recently.
The LILA elementary campus with grades K to 5 showed 60.9 percent of students meeting or exceeding proficiencies in math, 66.6 in reading, and 45.9 in science. The upper school with grades 6 to 12 showed proficiency levels of 52.6 in math, 61.2 in reading and 46.9 in science. Both schools suffered most in the science category with an average score well below the state average of 54.2. The lower grades excelled in reading proficiency, with a score well above the state average of 60.2 percent.
“We are looking forward to higher scores in future years as our staff gets accustomed to the school and we all get accustomed to the curriculum,” LILA Director Shannon Peterson said. “I wouldn’t be OK with these scores five years from now if they were the same. We’re OK with this as a starting point.”
Peterson vocalized disappointment over the fact that in some cases, an MCA score is the only measure used to grade a school.
“Our current buildings are full, and to get another building we need to sell bonds and get a good rating and have people want to invest, and sometimes these scores are all they look at,” she said. “I want to be able to show them our parent satisfaction survey, or some concrete measure of social and emotional growth, or how our kids handle problem solving and critical thinking and making friends and keeping friends and solving conflict.”
LILA is a language immersion school offering Spanish and Mandarin Chinese alongside English. Another frustration that Peterson has experienced is the lack of opportunity to highlight that aspect of the student learning on the MCA
“There is no foreign language aspect, and so everything that we teach them in that regard means very little when it comes to the MCAs,” she pointed out.
Peterson said that there may very well be changes implemented at LILA to assist students with future testing.
“We have never taught to a test and up to this point have not even done test prep,” she said. “However, moving forward, we will most likely have to look at implementing a test-taking skills course.”