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Published May 26 2010

Math test still tripping students

A math test required for graduation is still tripping up many Minnesota students, a year after the state Legislature granted them a five-year reprieve from having to pass it.

This spring, 58 percent of Minnesota 11th-graders passed the math test, a 1 percent increase over 2009. Almost 80 percent of 10th-graders passed the reading requirement on their first try, and 90 percent of ninth-graders aced the writing test.

On Tuesday, the state Department of Education released statewide results of the so-called GRAD tests, embedded in high-stakes No Child Left Behind tests. Proficiency budged only slightly, but Education Commissioner Alice Seagren highlighted the steady growth in recent years.

“I would have liked to have seen more of a gain in all those areas,” Seagren said. “But we have to reflect on the fact that we’ve seen strong, steady increases from 2007 to 2010.”

Meanwhile educators and legislators continue to debate the best way to strike a balance between tough requirements and a fair shot at graduation for the state’s students.

Legislators granted the reprieve on a new math test in 2009 amid concerns the tougher test would push down graduation rates that year. Students still need to retake the test twice and get extra math instruction if they fail.

A state task force recommended this winter that Minnesota shift to assessing achievement at the end of each math course students take instead of basing graduation on one test alone. The proposal received support from legislators, but floundered with the omnibus education bills it was included in.

“I don’t think we should put all of our eggs in one basket,” state Rep Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, a teacher, said about the GRAD test. “It shouldn’t all come down to one test.”

Moorhead students take exit exams in each math course, said Superintendent Lynne Kovash, who likes the multiple grad assessment idea: “Math is one subject where if you don’t continually practice, you lose those skills.”

State Education Department figures show that

3 percent of Minnesota seniors haven’t met their writing GRAD requirement and 8 percent haven’t passed the reading GRAD.

GRAD tests are embedded in the tougher MCA-IIs, the tests that determine compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind law. On these tests, 43 percent of 11th-graders scored proficient in math and 75 percent of 10th-graders showed proficiency in reading.

Both results represented a 1 percent increase over 2009 but 11 and 13 percent increases, respectively, over 2007. The department will release district-by-district scores in June.

The latest batch of test scores showed a persistent achievement gap between white students and their minority peers. For instance, 23 percent of blacks and 29 percent of Hispanics passed the math GRAD, compared to 63 percent of white 11th-graders.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529