ECM Editorial Board — Over the past 20 years test scores have been a significant part of the information available to the public for judging Minnesota’s schools.
For a great many of those years test data has served as the rallying point for school critics as if a constant harangue about failing scores would serve as the needed motivation to change education and sometimes a justification to curb investment in our schools. A careful examination of test related results from national and international tests present a very different picture.
• Minnesota has been among the top states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress math test for several years. Minnesota eighth-grade students ranked second in national math assessment and Minnesota fourth-graders ranked third.
• Minnesota students continue to widen the State’s lead on the ACT college entrance tests. Minnesota has led on the nation on average ACT scores for the last five years and has increased in three of the five years.
• Minnesota participates as a “mini-nation” on the Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMMS). Minnesota was treated as a country and compared to other countries. In both science and math at both the 4th grade and 8th grade levels, Minnesota students scored in the top five as compared to all the participating nations.
If these had been isolated headlines we might be reticent to celebrate, but the headlines reflect a trend not an incident.
Minnesota’s performance on the National Assessment, on the ACT college entrance test, and on the Trends on International Math and Science Study present a consistent picture of overall achievement by Minnesota compared to other states and even other nations.
There is always a caution because not all students in Minnesota are experiencing the success they deserve and there is always a need to be self evaluating because the world is changing.
Educational excellence is a major goal for many nations who want to take over the leadership position and are putting the money in their schools to make that happen. Nevertheless, for just a moment, let’s feel good about being in the top of the class and not the bottom or middle. Let’s use our success on these measures to motivate our state toward greater educational achievement. Let’s not use tests to belittle, demean and criticize, instead use these results to praise, nurture and celebrate. Minnesota is an educational leader. Isn’t that what we want?
There is one element of failure in these test results that is major and is not a cause to celebrate.
• There is a large achievement gap between our general populations and our students of color. There is a large achievement gap between groups of students from low income families and the general population.
Unless the success of educational achievement is found in all of groups of our students, we will not be a successful educational state. The achievement gap in Minnesota is greater to some extent than several other states because our overall achievement is high. At one time the phrase used was “equal educational opportunity” for all. That concept has changed. What we really must achieve is “equal educational success” at all levels of learning for students from all walks of life.
In an interview with the ECM Editorial Board, Commissioner Alice Seagren announced that Minnesota was among 15 states to receive a Gates Foundation grant to assist in meeting President Obama’s educational goals incorporated into the President’s “Race to the Top.”
The Gates grants were given to states that were judged best positioned by previous work to successfully meet the expectations of the new federal funded grant program. The states must compete for the funds under the “Race to the Top” and to be selected, they have to incorporate the following qualities into their school programs:
- Adopting internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace;
- Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals;
- Building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices;
- Turning around our lowest-performing schools.
Minnesota has been a leader in educational reform efforts for many years. Minnesota’s “Post-Secondary Options,” “Open Enrollment,” “Charter School Legislation,” “Q Comp,” “Grad Standards,” “Minimum Competency Testing” are all examples of early efforts by any state to create school improvement.
Current proposals from both the administration and the Minnesota Legislature (even though they are not always mutually supportive) mirror a continued priority to improve.
For all the “bits and pieces” and the continuous debate, Minnesota seems to be headed in the right direction and is an educational leader.
The test score data gives support to that conclusion. So, in these very tough financial times, what will be our political will and resource commitment to creating the best educated children in a world-wide community? What will be our commitment to closing the achievement gap and insuring that all students share in quality learning?
We need to resolve that high level learning will be our priority for students fromevery background and if change in our system of education is needed we will make those changes.
– This editorial is a product of the ECM Editorial Board, ECM Publishers Inc.