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"Knowledgeable parents understand that the most important lessons our educators teach won’t show up on an MCA score," Specht said.

Cassellius, Specht dispute importance of MCA scores

Education Minnesota President Denise Specht dismissed the MCA scores as an insufficient snapshot. (Photo: Matt J. Johnson)

Education Minnesota President Denise Specht dismissed the MCA scores as an insufficient snapshot. (Photo: Matt J. Johnson)

Test scores assessing Minnesota students in reading, science and math are due for release today, but already, the state’s two most prominent education figures are warning parents not to put too much stock in the results. According to an analysis by the Pioneer Press, the 2013 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) find Minnesota students performing roughly the same on science and math portions of the test, while the number of students rated “proficient” in reading dropped dramatically, from 76 percent in 2012 to 58 percent this year.

In a press release previewing the results, Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius points out that the drop-off does not mark an actual change in performance, as students took a test with more rigorous reading standards than tests in prior years.

“Any time a new test based on new standards is given, a drop in scores is to be expected,” said Cassellius.

The new reading assessment is based on so-called “Common Core” standards, a system of college readiness aptitude supported by the administration of President Barack Obama, and now in effect in 45 states and Washington, D.C. In her statement, Cassellius did not refer specifically to the Common Core standards, but did say the state would be using a number of different tests, as well as high school graduation rates, to judge how the state’s education performance was changing. Cassellius also pointed out that Minnesota students had ranked first in the nation in average ACT scores, a position the state has held for eight years running.

“These tests, while important, are just one piece of the overall picture of how students and schools are doing,” she said.

Meanwhile, speaking on behalf of the state’s teachers union, newly elected Education Minnesota President Denise Specht gave even less weight to the standardized test scores, saying the assessments bore little relation to later success in higher education or employment.

“Knowledgeable parents understand that the most important lessons our educators teach won’t show up on an MCA score,” Specht said.

Specht went on to float a number of possible reasons for the disappointing scores, including snow days hampering study time in rural districts and computer glitches that delayed the test-taking process throughout the state. Specht said the MCA scores are an insufficient method of judging students’ progress.

“Grades, conferences and even informal talks with teachers all give a better sense of how individual students are learning than these academic snapshots from a few days in April,” Specht said.

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