Why can’t a quarter of Minnesota students read well?

Three out of four high school sophomores passed the state’s reading test, the news release from the Minnesota Department of Education shouted today.

This apparently, is good news in education circles, even though 1 out of 4 students in Minnesota schools can’t read well enough to pass a test.

Why is that good news? Because a year ago, only 62 percent of the kids could read well enough to pass the test.

Keep in mind, however, that we’re talking different kids here. Last year’s sophomores were this year’s juniors. Maybe it was just a bad year for reading.

But Education Commissioner Alice Seagren has a different view:

“The significant jump in this year’s Reading MCA-II scores can in large part be attributed to the fact that the graduation requirement was embedded into the MCA-II assessment, which provided extra incentive for students to take the assessment seriously,” Commissioner Seagren said.

Apparently, it’s easier to pass a test if you give a rip about graduating.

Where do these kids go wrong? And how dependable are tests to tell us? Consider this: In 2005, 8th graders in Minnesota showed 85 percent passing the reading exam. Those eighth graders were last year’s sophomores, only 62-percent of whom passed the reading test for sophomores.

As cheery as the news release’s headline sounds, the numbers behind it signal a sad reality. A lot of Minnesota kids, not far from going out on their own, can’t read well.


This year’s sophomores were 2006’s 8th graders. How did they do then? Not that great. And next year’s sophomores weren’t setting the world afire in the subject, either.

All of this comes days after a study showed Minnesota’s graduation rate for black students falling

Most of the news organizations have focused on the 71 percent overall figure.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to find a sample copy of the test so we can all see how hard — or not — passing is.

  • c

    great idea Bob-i’ll take the test!

  • bsimon

    devil’s advocate question:

    How much reading do people need to do these days anyway?

  • Bob Collins

    I don’t think we’re asking people to read War and Peace. But certainly enough to, say, read the mortgage application and understand it, I’d say. It’s not so much being able to read the words as much as being able to comprehend the words.

    Oh, and enough to read at least one blog a day. That’s actually more important, now that I think of it.

  • c

    ok Bob. what about the links to a blog-are they all necessary that you read all the links or are the links just back up to your points. I’ll admit I skip a link or two once in a while and that last link in the Wisconsin weather blog just lead to the login page of the newspaper.

  • c


    I for one, scan and skim through some blogs

  • Bob Collins

    Keeping mind that there’s more than a few people who remind me that I don’t “get it” when it comes to blogs, I think links are vital to the overall message of a blog. In my case, the overall point may come through, but the individual details that lead to the point won’t come through if you don’t read the linked material.

    I don’t consider a blog to be a “column” like in the newspapers (fyi, I don’t read newspaper columns).

  • Alison

    Don’t take this as a comment that I don’t think kids should have passed. Isn’t this a test for graduation (something to know by the end of senior year) being given to sophomores? Should we expect all kids to something 2+ years before we’re done teaching it?

    The disturbing thing about these findings was the reinforcement that we are indeed failing to educate the non-white students. And of course, there is plenty of blame to go around for that. It isn’t just the schools. Our whole society needs to figure out this problem.

  • nikki

    THe funny thing is that all of this bad press… graduation rates of minority students and now test result disparities… will probably not encourage much action among minnesota citizens. If the majority of the kids failing were middle class white kids, everyone would be really upset. Maybe a few more mini vans would be parked in the high school parking lot for PTO meetings. But since most people have become completly desensitized to this epidemic of non-white students struggling in our education system (and it is an epidemic) I am sure that tonight’s episode of family guy will end up provoking more water cooler conversation than the education of our youth. Hey…instead of volunteering, contributing money, or just spending more time with our children… lets vote politicians into office who want to cut education funding but give us that much needed extra 300 dollars of spending money per child. Lets face it… that money went towards your flat screen tv from Walmart! The world is so backward…

  • bsimon

    I wonder what the reading exam tests for. I agree that things like mortgage applications are important to understand – but is that what they’re testing for?

  • Bob Collins

    Nikki, I think it comes down to the “why” of it. WHY don’t non-white students do as well. WHY don’t they graduate. WHY is the dropout rate so high. In the end, I think a lot of the folks you describe as not giving a rip, have determined that it’s the kids that are the problem more than the system.

    That is certainly a discussion worth having. Absent that discussion, apathy sets in, and people figure “if the kids don’t want to be educated, there’s not much you can do.”

  • Al

    A couple of thoughts on the WHY:

    Last year we lived next door to a family with 4 kids. Our oldest and their youngest were the same age. Almost every night we sat down and read books to our kids. Almost every night their ghetto thug friends sat on the front stoop drinking, drugging, and playing music for the entire neighborhood to listen to. Our kids are now 6. Ours was one of the top readers in her class. Theirs? When we moved away he could scarcely talk.

    How did it get this way? Maybe it had to do with babies having babies. The mom had her first of 4 at about age 16. How does it perpetuate? Who else might be to blame? You could blame us, the neighbors for not trying to stop it. However, those many nights, often school nights, when we called 911 to report loud parties, drug dealing, and domestic violence, we added ‘…and they have 4 kids at home.’ Guess what, they continued to have 4 kids at home. Minneapolis students of color not passing the reading test. We watched four statistics in the making. How do we solve it? We, as a community, need to tell the police that they need to take action when they see this. They need to pass this information on to county services. Their oldest child was 16 when I last saw her, ready to start the next generation.

    To be fair, on the other side we had the Minneapolis students of color ready to pass the reading test, and one even headed to college. The parents worked hard and did their best as parents. But those parents both had hard working parents too. It’s clearly a cyclic phenomenon. Unless we decide it is worth our while to take kids out of homes with doping and drinking ghetto thugs, we will allow the circle to remain unbroken.

  • Alan

    The “why” isn’t part of the equation; it is the equation. I was raised the in the Dayton’s Bluff area, but was fortunate enough to have parents that actually cared about what happened to my four siblings and me. My parents were never well-off and neither went to college, but all of us have college degrees including two with master’s which we individually financed. The reason was they instilled values in us that were based around respect and responsibility. We valued the educational opportunities afforded us and understood why it was important to take school seriously.

    Now that I am an adult, I see exactly how great my parents were. My wife works with two area high schools running an after school program designed to help would-be first generation college students succeed in high school and prepare for college. Almost daily, she tells me of students completely blowing-off her and the free tutors provided by a local college. The worst part is this is funded with our tax dollars and the students even receive a stipend to be in the program (as if helping them through their entire high school years and helping them get into college isn’t enough). So, yeah, give me my tax rebate!

  • Bob Collins

    // Almost daily, she tells me of students completely blowing off her and the free tutors provided by a local college.

    Does she ever tell you about the ones that don’t?