Minnesota school reading scores drop; fewer than 50% proficient in math, science

State achievement levels on standardized tests dropped significantly following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

t10.18 Bob King -- 102118.N.DNT.LEVY1 -- Congdon Park Elementary fifth grade teacher Kathy Lofstuen (top) answers a student's question during a recent class. Lofstuen's classroom is packed with 35 students, 32 of which are present here. Bob King /
A fifth grade classroom at Congdon Park Elementary school in Duluth, Minnesota in 2018.
Duluth News Tribune

ST. PAUL — The number of Minnesota K-12 students meeting grade-level standards for reading continues to decline, according to 2022 statewide assessment scores from the state education department.

As the reading proficiency rate continued to drop, fewer than half of Minnesota students who took state standardized tests were proficient in math and science in 2022, a trend that started following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said the recent trends could be seen as “disheartening” but added her department was committed to working with students, staff and families to help students rebound.

“This is the first time also that our state and any other states has had to respond to a global pandemic and navigate the educating of our children in a number of different ways,” Mueller told reporters Thursday, Aug. 25, as the state released its 2022 test results.

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In 2019, 55% of Minnesota students were proficient in math. In 2022 that had dropped to 44.8%. Reading proficiency, meanwhile, continued a downward trend from 59.2% in 2019 to 51.1% in 2022. Science proficiency also remains significantly lower than it was in 2019.


Minnesota reports the performance of 400,000 or so students around the state each year through the Minnesota Report Card. The state measures student proficiency in reading, math and science based on numbers from standardized tests including the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment and Minnesota Test of Academic Skills. Testing for reading and math begins in third grade and continues in high school. The science test is taken in grades 5-8 and during the grade students take a life science or biology course in high school.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer students have participated in the annual assessment tests. In 2018 and 2019 about 98% of students took the state assessment tests.

The state did not provide a data summary for student test results in 2020 due to the pandemic, but when testing resumed in 2021 the number of students who took the math assessment dropped closer to 80%. That year, the state offered a waiver for the testing requirement. This year, participation climbed back to about 93%.

While the level of participation in the test increased between 2021 to 2022, overall participation remains down from before the pandemic in 2019. Mueller said Minnesota and other states have seen lower participation rates, resulting in less reliable data. But with participation increasing once again, Mueller said 2022 offers the first new data which can be accurately compared with pre-pandemic numbers.

As the state education department released new test numbers on Thursday, it also announced plans to provide intense support to 371 public schools over the next three years. Minnesota identifies schools that need support through metrics like achievement levels and attendance. Sixty-four other schools that were identified for extra support in 2018 but did better in 2022 will also continue to receive assistance.

The state identifies schools in need of support through a program called the North Star accountability system, which the state launched in 2018.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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