Education: MCA results show slow statewide progress

The newest batch of Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments results released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Education show statewide slight increases in reading and science with a decrease in math.

The newest batch of Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments results released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Education show statewide slight increases in reading and science with a decrease in math.

Tim Murtha, director of teaching and learning for Brainerd Public Schools, said the district is encouraged by the MCA results. It's important to view the results in terms of long-term trends, he said, and not as individual data points. In that regard, the district's scores are trending upward.

"By and large, ours are positive," Murtha said. "Yes, we would like them to be a little bit more aggressively positive than they are, but I would rather work from positive growth than from negative."

Those positive trends also validate the hard work put in by the district's teachers, Murtha said. He highlighted positive gains made by Riverside Elementary School students and special education students at the middle school level. Brainerd High School language arts teachers looked hard at their curriculum and made changes to it in order to better meet student needs, he said. That work paid off as students continue to show growth.

The MCAs provide value as a postmortem assessment of the previous school year, Murtha said. The scores affirm the instructional and curriculum choices the teachers and administrators have made, Murtha said. But the district can't make changes to an individual student's instruction based on the scores, as they don't come out until the summer.


"We use this to kind of evaluate the system," Murtha said. "And the system needs to take a long-term view."


Brainerd Public Schools

  • Math-65.1
  • Reading-67.9
  • Science-67.4

Crosby-Ironton Public Schools

  • Math-52.9
  • Reading-55.9
  • Science-61.8

Pequot Lakes Public Schools

  • Math-70.1
  • Reading-68.3
  • Science-68.3

Staples-Motley School District

  • Math-48
  • Reading-50.1
  • Science-41.6

Little Falls Community Schools

  • Math-55
  • Reading-51.2
  • Science-49.9

Pillager School District


  • Math-59.1
  • Reading-65.2
  • Science-56.9

-- Scores reflect the percentage of students who met or exceeded the standard.


The MCA scores are part of the district's balanced student assessment system that includes other classroom assessments, Murtha said.

"This is just one dip in at one time a year that gives us a thermostat check on the system," Murtha said. "And it's encouraging this year."

Last year's testing session was marred by numerous issues with the testing system, provided by Pearson through a contract with the state's department of education. Pearson's servers experienced a distributed denial of service attack which led to the testing being suspended for a day and a half.

The testing this year went "significantly better," Murtha said. Pearson responded to the statewide concerns, he said, and the district had a year of experience using the system under its belt.

"We also were able to anticipate a little bit better, having been through it with Pearson once," Murtha said.

The 2016 MCA statewide proficiency data show reading scores increased slightly, math scores declined slightly and science scores increased. Results over time show scores have slowly increased while achievement gaps between white students and students of color persist.


"It is disappointing to see the slow pace of progress," Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said in a news release. "But those of us who do this work every day remain undeterred in our goal, which is to guarantee an excellent and equitable education for every Minnesota student."

For the assessments, students take tests on math, reading and science. Students in grades 3-8 take the math and reading tests. Students in grade 11 also take math, while students in grade 10 take reading. Students in grades 5 and 8, as well as high schoolers, take the science test.

Statewide in 2016, students scored a 60 in reading proficiency, up one point from 2015. For math, students scored a 61 in proficiency, down one point from 62 in 2015. In science, students scored a 55 in proficiency, up two points from 2015.

This year's high school results showed a steep increase in the number of parents opting their students out of taking the state assessments. This spring 2,227 juniors were opted out of taking the math MCA, up from 694 last year. In reading, 1,404 students were opted out this spring, compared to 763 in 2015.

"The record number of students opting out of tests this year reflects the growing sentiment by teachers, parents and students that one single test is not an effective measure of student knowledge," Cassellius said. "Even though the new Every Student Succeeds Act requires that we continue testing, I will be working with teachers and parents on their appropriate place in our new accountability system."

There's an extremely low number of students in Brainerd Public Schools who opt out of the MCA tests, Murtha said. The district has an "extremely high participation rate," he said, which helps give the district quality data.

"The MCA is not a perfect test, but it's evolved, just like we evolve with what we do in the classroom," Murtha said.

On Sept. 1, the department will release the Multiple Measurements Ratings, a more comprehensive measure of a school's performance. The MMR expands beyond proficiency, by factoring in student growth on tests over time, progress towards reducing achievement gaps, and graduation rates for high schools.

Information on individual school MCA scores can be found at,the Minnesota Department of Education's online report card system.


SPENSER BICKETT may be reached at 218-855-5859 or . Follow on Twitter at .


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