The St. Michael-Albertville School District’s vision is to perform at or above the top 25 percent of schools in the state, and director of curriculum and instruction Ann-Marie Foucault said in Monday evening’s school board meeting that all staff development goals and strategic goals flow from that overarching vision.
So you can imagine the district’s frustration that their MCA math rankings appear to have taken a big slide last year, showing that only one grade level scored above the 25th percentile on last year’s MCA exams–out of the seven grades who take the state math test. Just last year the district had five grade levels scoring in the top 25th percent for math.
So what gives?
The issue, superintendent Jim Behle said, lies with a state scoring incompatibility. Last year was the first year students took their math MCAs on the computer, and so the state allowed schools let their students take the exam up to three times and they would take each student’s highest score of the three. Or, as St. Michael-Albertville chose to do, the schools could continue the practice of testing only once in the spring, which doesn’t allow students multiple chances for a higher score.
STMA chose to keep their testing consistent for better measurement year-to-year and to avoid unnecessary time away from classroom instruction, but the unpleasant side effect was that they are compared against all other Minnesota schools, regardless of whether those schools gave their students three shots at the test or just one. The results have shown that all of the schools that took the exams only once have seen a drop in scores, Behle said.
“It wasn’t as fair,” Foucault said, "because our kids didn’t have multiple opportunities to test.”
Because of this, district officials say they feel the drop in scores would be smaller or nonexistent had all schools been tested equally, though he said they would be studying the data anyways to see if there could be more to the drop.
For this school year, schools will be allowed to have students take the test up to three times during the year, but only the final test will count. Behle said the district has opted to give the test twice, once mid-year and once in the spring, but they will not be giving the fall practice test because they feel their NWEA (MAP) testing already takes up enough testing time in the fall.
Every STMA ranking below the 25th percentile was in math with the exception of third grade reading, which board members pointed out as a concern because they found third grade scores were below the 25th percentile in both math and reading for three straight years now. This is the only grade that has had a consistent lower ranking in both reading and math.
The bright spot in the testing data is that six of the seven tested grade levels are higher than the top 20th percentile in reading, which exceeds the district’s goals to be in the top 25th percentile.
“When you don’t have good trend data, you can’t make good decisions,” Behle said. “This one-year blip really messes up our analysis. We have other tests to look at, but … it affects our ability to do a good analysis for our teachers and our staff. But we’ll dig into it as we can and make those adjustments where we need to.”