Albert Lea test scores starting to return to pre-pandemic levels

·7 min read

Aug. 26—Mary Jo Dorman, executive director of teaching and learning, the district noted with the exception of fourth grade math, all third- through sixth-grade scores improved in reading, math and science over the 2021 scores. Over 90% of students in third- through sixth-grade took the MCA.

"This is a success for the district, and reflects the focus on very intentional work to improve the recovery of learning due to COVID," Dorman wrote. "Scores also reflect a trend to closely reaching pre-COVID MCA scores."

On the other hand, many high school students opted not to do testing, with less than 50% of students taking the MCA in some grades.

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Ron Wagner, the district's new superintendent, had stated one of his goals for the year is strengthening the district's Tier 1 core content instruction, and said multiple data points would help teachers and staff understand learning trajectories for different students.

"The MCA is a data point in the spring that provides us with a measurement to inform the teacher of the student's progress towards meeting or exceeding the grade level state standards," Dorman said in a phone interview. "I am confident that our teachers and staff will continue to meet the students where they are and facilitate their learning based on the individual needs of each student."

According to the data, Halverson Elementary scored the highest composite average of the district's elementary schools, with 57.4% of students who took the math, reading and science tests met or exceeded the state's math standard rate. It showed 44.1% of students met or exceeded reading rates and 75.7% met or exceeded science rates.

Lakeview Elementary had the district's second-highest composition rate with 60.7% of its students meeting or exceeding standards in math, 50% in reading and 48.3% in science.

At Sibley Elementary, 47% of students met or exceeded the state standard in math, while 42.1% met or exceeded the reading standard and 41.8% of students met or exceeded the standard in science.

At Hawthorne Elementary, 39.2% of their students met or exceeded math and reading rates, while 41.3% of the students who took the science test met or exceeded state rates.

For Dorman, the biggest highlight was Halverson's fifth-graders scoring 76% on the science test, which beat the 60% from 2019. She attributed the increase to the district's new kindergarten through fifth-grade science curriculum.

"The science was great," she said. "That's amazing."

Scores were up at Southwest Middle School, where 26.9% of students who took the test met or exceeded math standards, but 41.1% met or exceeded reading achievement rates.

Last year, only 19.4% of students met or exceeded math standards, while 38% of students who took the reading test met or exceeded expectations. Students in both sixth and seventh grades took both tests, but not did not take science standards.

At the high school level, 21.67% of students met or exceeded achievement rates in math, 32.7% met or exceeded reading progress rates and 25.9% of students met or exceeded science standards, though there was a caveat.

"It's hard to really know what the data means at a secondary level because when you have half of the kids not taking the test, it's really skewed data," Dorman said. "So the data we do look at ... is our ACT scores."

And with fewer students in secondary school electing to test, she did not want to speculate on what the lower scores could mean.

Scores at the high school were down slightly from last year, where 22.8% of those who opted to take the tests met or exceeded math standards, 36.9% met or exceeded reading standards and 26.9% met or exceeded science standards.

Dorman also said she heard from parents of 11th graders who did not plan to take a math MCA test and instead focus on the ACT.

"Families will say, 'I want my child to do well on the ACT score,' and so they're studying for that," she said. "They're putting less emphasis on the MCA test."

Only 48% of 11th-grade students took the math MCA last year. Forty-six percent of 10th graders took the science assessment and 52% took the reading test. Sixty-six percent of eighth graders took the science test. There were no ninth-grade tests.

Dorman was worried about all the students opting out of taking tests at the high school level, though she said that trend was statewide.

"I think statewide we need to figure out how can we encourage families to have their students test or are there other avenues we should be looking at, but it's just not an Albert Lea issue cause I work with all the other Big 9 schools," she said. "They're all reporting that at the secondary level definitely opt-outs are concerning, because then it's just not valuable data for districts."

And that trend was a little concerning for Dorman.

"We can encourage families that it's a measure of how the district is doing," she said. "... If students are opting out, we're not getting that data on how well students are doing in meeting the standards."

No testing data was available for the Area Learning Center.

Testing, which used to be mandated as part of graduation, was not required.

According to Dorman, last year's focus was getting students back on track as quickly as possible.

"When we look at our elementary scores, we are very close to the pre-COVID scores," Dorman said. "That's just a celebration that all the recovery, the COVID recovery learning that teachers were doing last year with students, is working."

In fact, scores increased at the elementary level in every area except fourth-grade math over last year, something she described as "an amazing success."

Dorman also said last year's scores were similar to those posted in 2019, something she noted was "great."

"It's surprising that we're closing that learning gap so quickly so we are getting back to the pre-COVID scores," she said.

She also pointed out that test results on the MCA were connected with state funding.

Also in the report, Albert Lea High School was identified as a linked support school. According to the MDE website, a high school in need of linked support was a school focused on credit and/or dropout recovery and had 30% or more of its students identified.

According to a Minnesota Public Radio News article, data shows the majority of Minnesota students are below state proficiency standards in math, and just over half are proficient in reading — a sharp decline since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just under 52% of students met or exceeded reading standards — a drop of eight percentage points since schools moved to distance learning at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fewer than 46% of students statewide met or exceeded math standards — a drop of 10 percentage points from 2019.

— MPR's Elizabeth Shockman contributed to this report.

How did the results turn out for other area districts?

* Alden-Conger: 42.07% met or exceeded math standards, 44.3% met or exceeded reading standards and 45.3% met or exceeded science standards

* Glenville-Emmons: 34.9% met or exceeded math standards, 35.5% met or exceeded reading standards and 31.1% met or exceeded science standards

* NRHEG: 39.2% met or exceeded math standards, 45.3% met or exceeded reading standards and 42% met or exceeded science standards

* United South Central: 49.3% met or exceeded math standards, 50.5% met or exceeded reading standards and 36.6% met or exceeded science standards