Princeton better than state in science, behind in reading, math

Scores from the latest Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA) taken last April show the Princeton school district doing far better than the state average in science, but behind in reading and math.

The 11th graders specifically lagged in math skills, where 36.4 percent of last school year’s Princeton juniors were proficient compared to the state’s 52.4 percent.

All the grades who took the math MCA in Princeton showed a 57.6 percent proficiency, compared to the state’s 62.6 percent average.

The reading results were down this year in Princeton compared to the previous year. But the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) anticipated that, stating that the reading scores were down across the state this time. The reason was because the latest state reading test was more rigorous, the MDE explained.

Princeton’s proficiency in the reading exam the previous year was 76.1 percent for all the grades taking it, versus 76 percent statewide.

This year Princeton had 55.2 percent proficient in reading, versus the state’s 57.8 percent. Princeton District Director of Teaching/Learning Mindy Jezierski said last week that students in grades 3-8 take the state reading and math assessments. The sophomores also take the reading test, and along with grades 5 and 8, take the science test.

“Any time a new test based on new standards is given, a drop in scores is to be expected,” said Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. “But setting high expectations is the right thing to do. If we want our students to compete in the global economy, we must continue to stretch and hold ourselves accountable for helping students meet higher standards.”

“Certain years, by statute, the standards change,” Jezierski said.

The latest state science test results show Princeton 59.9 percent proficient, versus 52.1 percent statewide, a difference of 7.8.

One of the big changes in this latest round of state exams, was that students were only allowed to take the math test once, versus in previous years when they had three test chances, and the best score was used, said Jezierski. The reason for only allowing it once now is because of the state dropping the old federal No Child Left Behind requirement of having to pass the math test to graduate.

Only being able to take the math test once can account for some math scores dropping, Cassellius said.

A student can be having “a good day” on the day of a test, or “not such a good day and the scores reflect that,” Jezierski said.

Jezierski also mentioned that on the day of the math test, a state computer system used for the tests had problems and so the online tests were interrupted at many schools including Princeton. That too, can affect students’ test performances, she said.

Jezierski also explained that former high school students are now allowed multiple pathways to get a diploma if they didn’t get one by graduation time because of their test scores. They could come back now and test out to graduate, Jezierski said. One such test would be a college placement exam, thus showing academic growth, Jezierski said. Other tests to get the diploma would be an Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery, and another would be an a post-high school test showing qualifications and interest level for certain jobs, she said.

“Honestly, the ACT is what the state is looking at,” Jezierski said. “It is a real indication of what it is looking for in the real world.”

(ACT is the original abbreviation for American College Testing, and it examines college readiness.)

Jezierski was especially happy about Princeton’s science exam results being so high. “We do such a nice job with the science program,” she said.

Jezierski noted that the school district will examine the growth averages in the district’s academic performance and find a “multiple measures rating” in about Oct. 1.

The Princeton district in September will be looking at the state test scores gap between special ed/free and reduced lunch students and the rest of the students who are performing better on tests, Jezierski added. “We want to close the gaps,” she said. To try to do that district staff members will look at “what we teach and how we teach,” she said.

Barb Muckenhirn, the new principal at Princeton High Schoolcommentted on the significant gap in test scores between the PHS 11th graders and the state average in last April’s state test.

The junior math test scores for PHS “are not what we want them to be,” Muckenhirn said. But she added that the math scores were up in this test round than the previous year, though the gap between PHS and the state increased.

Muckenhirn was next asked what the school might do to boost the math scores even more for PHS on the state tests. She answered that a school can’t just base performance on this one particular test. Even the state commissioner of education has commented how difficult and flawed the testing system is, Muckenhirn said.

“We use the results, they are important and certainly valid, but they are one measure,” Muckenhirn said.

Math is a “very challenging subject to teach, and the test scores don’t necessarily reflect what the students are doing or the effort we are making,” she added. “We need to analyze if a group of students need to be supported.”

Muckenhirn says the math teachers at PHS are ready to assist students struggling with math and if it appears a student can be given an extra trimester if needed to complete math courses.