Test score headlines

I’ve written in the past that school test results often seem to be described in overly rosy terms.

The headline of the Minnesota grad standards test results today seems like one such occasion: Latest school test scores show improvements

The reality? Only 57 percent of Minnesota 11th graders who took the math test passed. And fewer than half are proficient in math.

“Like last year’s reading results, this year’s math results are another clear indication that if we raise expectations, more of our students will accept the challenge and meet those expectations,” Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said in her news release.

Eight percent more, perhaps. That’s the increase from last year in the percentage of 11th graders declared “proficient” in math. And that number is only 3 percent for black students.

This year was the first year the tests were supposed to determine whether a student would graduate, and we were told the results would be better because the tests “matter” this year. Wouldn’t we have expected a bigger improvement if the previous scores were blamed on students not taking the test seriously?

But improvement is often in the eye of the beholder. Here are some tables from the department’s press release. You decide.





You may recall that “proficiency” wasn’t determined until after officials saw how well — or how poorly — the students did.

And most officials in politicians figured they would do poorly. So they removed the test results as a grad requirement.

What headline would you write about these scores?

  • Alison

    There are so many observations about this that you could make, but I think some questions that need to be considered are:

    1. Who determines what it takes to be proficient?

    2. How closely does the test measure what we have determined to be important?

    3. What strategies do we need to employ to close the achievement gap between well-off whites and everyone else? From my experience, this isn’t a school-only issue. We need to address learning outside the building and ensuring that students have home environments conducive to learning. How can we do that?

    One other intersting thing to note: For 11th grade math 42% are proficient but 57% meet the grad requirement. Clearly something need to change if you don’t actually have to be proficient to meet the grad requirement!

  • Bob Collins

    I believe I put a link up to what constitutes proficiency. We had a chat a few weeks ago on this. Proficiency is determined based on the performance of the studentson the test.

  • nt

    So what did these scores look like back in the Sputnik days? I teach college students in Winona, and the general mathematical ability I see is certainly consistent with these test scores. One of the old guys in my department tells me in the old days, students were no different, but colleges/NSF were looking for the “gems” in order to beat the Russians.

  • Al

    This whole idea of setting the proficiency to show what you want it to reminds of the financial forecasting of the divisions in the company where I work. It seems from my bleacher seat that the divisions need to figure where to set the financial projections of the coming year so that they can beat it by the right amount to look like they are doing great. If they overshoot the projection too far they look like they were dishonest in setting the target. If they set it too high and fall short they look like they didn’t succeed. And they have to think long term. The company always wants to see year over year growth. So if this year looks great and the next not so good, they have to do some playing with the projections.

    It doesn’t seem to matter as much if we make money as it does whether we make what they guestimated/fabricated we could. Same with the test scores. It’s not how well the kids, but did they do better than last year and better than the officials thought they would. Let’s adjust the bar again or change the test or the rules so the Dept of Ed. can look good next year.

  • Elizabeth T

    What headline?

    Administrators are not competent in math


    No one cares if this is true


    My kid doesn’t go to public schools, so why should I care?


    Single parents screwed by the system


    Our tax-education system is stupid, but since you’re incompetent at math (and likely reading) you wouldn’t understand it


    The people running our financial system are apparently running our educational system, too


    Minnesota schools bankrupted but don’t get bailout


    This is why we want your tax dollars


    Teachers’ Unions bar qualified teachers from students

    or …

  • Mary Hoffman

    This is scary stuff. Just think about a next generation does not understand basic math, but are to be the future businesspersons, voters, leaders, and parents of the nation. Last summer a friend and I took the tests online to see what was on them – nothing that I had not already covered by 8th grade and most by 5th grade.

    I do not have children. What is happening out in the schools my tax dollars are supporting?

    A niece just graduated from high school with a fine grade point average and a full college scholarship to her 1st choice. In fact, 88% of her class is college bound.

    What did I hear from her younger sibs? How unfairly hard that school’s grading system is! Count your blessings kids. It is the same “rotten” system used where I went to high school and enabled me to go on to college.