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Latest school test scores show improvements

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Answer sheet
An answer sheet for the MCA-II standardized test. The Minnesota Department of Education has released results of the latest round of tests, which show improvements in reading and math scores.
MPR photo/Tom Weber

More than half of all high school juniors in Minnesota met the state's new requirements on a math graduation test that had many worried about whether they'd graduate.

The Minnesota Department of Education on Friday announced that 57 percent of the state's 11th-graders passed either one of two statewide standardized tests on the first attempt.

This was the first year the Math Graduation-Required Assessments for Diploma test, or GRAD, was part of a broader standardized test called the MCA-II that students take to measure their performance. This year, 42 percent of the state's 11th-graders scored proficient on the MCA-II, an eight percent increase from 2008.

For the most part, every high school junior had to pass the GRAD to get a diploma. 

There were worries that failing this test in 11th grade wouldn't leave enough time before graduation for retakes. Students took the math GRAD in May with that threat hanging over their heads. 

But a bill that has since become law changed those rules. Now, anyone who fails the GRAD in the next five years will have to re-take it at least two times. If they still fail, they can graduate if they meet all of their school's requirements for getting a diploma. 

Critics said that deflates the test's importance -- and amounts to "three strikes and you graduate."  Lawmakers who worked on the issue, though, say they needed more time to find a long-term solution.

"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 a statement.  

"These results highlight the need for Minnesota to continue with its efforts to prepare every Minnesota student for success in the 21st century through greater academic rigor," Seagren said. 

Supporters defend the move, though, saying the issue needs more study. 

Sen. Chuck Wiger was a main lawmaker sponsoring the bill to make the change.

"It is simply not fair to deny our students a diploma based on the outcome of a single test, especially when we changed -- and raised -- the standards in the middle of their K-12 years," Wiger said in a statement Friday. "We know there has to be a better way and need multiple, quality ways for students to achieve math proficiency and receive their diplomas."

Wiger also said a task force will study the issue in the coming months. The work group will be headed by the Department of Education and the University of Minnesota and will have a report ready for the commissioner of Education, by mid-December. 

Schools will learn today just which students failed and need to re-test.  Students can start taking the re-tests on July 7. 

The department only released statewide figures. Data for individual schools and districts will be reported later this month.

Other highlights include:

- 21 percent of black and 31 percent of Hispanic students met the 11th grade math graduation requirements, compared to 63 percent of white students;

- 78 percent of Minnesota 10th-graders met the reading graduation requirement, up from 75 percent in 2008;

- 89 percent of the state's 9th graders met the writing graduation requirement, the same as in 2008.