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Rochesterscores arebetter thanstate rate

By Edie Grossfield

egrossfield@postbulletin.com

Although just 46 percent of Rochester public schools juniors passed the state’s math test for the federal No Child Left Behind, district officials are pleased it is significantly higher than the state passing rate of 30 percent.

While the math test in this year’s Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA-II) is significantly more difficult than the old MCA, the low scores were due, in part, to many students leaving about 31 percent of the questions blank, the state education department said in a press release today.

Students were supposed to answer those "constructed response" questions by providing short explanations of their answers to some math questions.

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Randy Nelson, director of curriculum and instruction for Rochester public schools, said he plans to investigate whether a large percentage of Rochester students also left those questions blank. Nelson said he’s heard from teachers that there are a good number of 10th- and 11th-graders who do not take the MCA-IIs seriously because they don’t count toward their graduations.

"For some students, if they don’t feel it’s going to count, and it’s not going to help them get into college, the level of motivation just isn’t there. And I think that’s what’s connected more than anything else to the constructed response issue," Nelson said.

Minnesota districts administered the MCA-IIs in April and May this year. Students in grades three through eight took reading and math tests. Tenth-graders took a reading test, and 11th-graders took a math test.

During the next three years, the stakes of the 10th- and 11th-grade MCA-II tests will increase. The state will be phasing in the new GRAD component of the MCA, which will assess students for basic skills. They will have to earn a minimum score on the test to graduate.

"Is that going to ramp up the importance that they attach to the test? Oh, I think it’s going to be huge," Rochester Superintendent Jerry Williams said.

Williams said Rochester public schools performed well on the tests overall. Considering all the categories in which the schools and the district can be cited, he said district students passed in 98 percent of them.

"So, from a big picture piece, that’s really, really good news," he said.

As for the schools on the needs-improvement list and the worrisome 11th-grade math results, he said each school building will be using the MCA-II data to improve.

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"They’re identifying particular students that need to be worked with. And we’re going to take the efforts to improve in the areas that were cited. We are a continuously improving district … and I’m very confident that we can address this," Williams said.

At the elementary, middle and high school levels, Rochester students out-performed the state averages, and that is the only way to gauge success this year, according to the state department.

"That’s about the only comparison you can make," said Randy Nelson, Rochester public school’s director of curriculum and instruction. "The trend data doesn’t make sense because the test has changed so much. So, for a year or two or three, we’re going to be in this position."

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