An In-Depth Exploration of the 2014 MCA Results

Despite the test’s shortcomings and incomplete analysis of the results, described in detail in a previous post, the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA) DO present some interesting findings. The examples below look at results for 3rd grade reading and 8th grade math in Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools (charter and non-charter):

  • Depending on where you get your news, you learned that Minneapolis and St. Paul showed modest gains or remained flat in overall proficiency rates. It is important to note that each student’s score is grouped into four different achievement levels: “exceeds the standards”, “meets the standards”, “partially meets the standards” or “does not meet the standards.” Proficiency is defined by the percentage of students who meet or exceed the standards.
    • Third grade reading proficiency rates actually went down by one percentage point in Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) and went up by four percentage points in St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS); 8th grade math proficiency rates increased 4.5 percentage points in MPS and decreased more than 3 percentage points in SPPS).
    • Some really smart people have stated that proficiency rates don’t tell the full story. I agree. Average scores, can tell a more complete story. If we look at those, by district, we can see that MPS’s average 3rd grade reading scores decreased by 0.8 points and in SPPS the scores increased by 2.2 points. 8th grade math average scores increased less than one point in MPS schools and increased just over one point in SPPS schools.
    • I’m even more interested in the Multiple Measurements Ratings which are released later this fall and include more telling data such as growth scores.
  • Also widely reported: gaps between white students and non-white students persist. These data do not tell the whole story. There are large gaps, but where do they exist and in what subject-areas do they exist?
    • Questions on the 3rd grade reading MCA test are split into two areas (substrands): informational text and literature. White students in MPS and SPPS schools tend to perform better than the district and state averages in both substrands, whereas students of color are significantly behind both the district and state averages. For SPPS, the gaps are large, but in the case of American Indian students, there is almost no gap between their scores and the district average:

3GR_MCA_SPPS

  • In MPS, the gaps are much larger and Asian is the only group of nonwhite students to outperform the district average (in the literature substrand):

3GR_MCA_MPS

  • Questions on the 8th grade math MCA test are split into four areas (substrands): algebra, data analysis & probability, geometry, and numbers & operations. White students in MPS and SPPS schools tend to perform better than the district and state averages in both substrands, whereas most students of color are significantly behind both the district and state averages. In SPPS, the gaps are large, but in the case of Asian students, their scores are equal to, or are higher than the district average:

8GM_MCA_SPPS

  • In MPS, Asian students outperform the district average in every substrand while Hispanic and American Indian students come close to the district averages in many of the substrands:

8GM_MCA_MPS

Despite a lot of “doom and gloom”, there are quite a few bright spots to be found.

  • To find those bright spots, I narrowed the data universe to just schools who serve a high percentage of non-white, low income and English-language learners. Here are a few that stand out:
    • Galtier Magnet Elementary in St. Paul, with only 7% of white students, had an increase of nearly 9 points in average 3rd grade reading MCA scores and proficiency rates that increased 25 percentage points!
    • Aurora Charter School, in southeast Minneapolis, had no white students last year, and saw an 11 point gain in average 3rd grade reading MCA scores. It’s proficiency rates also jumped 14 percentage points!
    • Harvest Prep School in north Minneapolis also had no white students last year and saw a 7 point gain in average 3rd grade reading MCA scores and proficiency rates that increased 21 percentage points!
    • St. Paul City Middle School (charter) had 7 percent white students last year and saw a 6 point gain in average 8th grade math MCA scores and a proficiency rates that increased 17 percentage points!
  • What about the schools that have student populations more representative of the districts as a whole?
    • Lyndale Elementary in south Minneapolis had the same percentage of white students as the district average (33%) and saw an 8 point gain in average 3rd grade reading MCA scores and proficiency rates that increased 17 percentage points!
    • Cornerstone Montessori charter school in east St. Paul also had the same percentage of white students as the district average (24%) and saw 14 point gain in average 3rd grade reading MCA scores and proficiency rates that increased 29 percentage points!
    • For the 8th grade math MCA scores, schools that more closely matched the demographics of the districts, did not see large gains from 2013 to 2014 in average MCA scores or percent proficient.

Clearly, there is potential to glean a lot of information from the MCA results. I would strongly encourage policy makers, district officials, parents and the general community to go through a similar exercise of identifying schools that seem to be doing something special with students who typically need extra support and schools that are not developing successful students. In both cases, more information is needed to understand why a school is successful (or not) and how success can be duplicated and scaled throughout Minneapolis, St. Paul and the rest of the state.

Jonathan May (jonathan@gennextmsp.org)
Director of Data & Research, Generation Next

SIF 2015