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Little change in student test results

ST. PAUL - A new batch of student test results show Minnesota children are coasting along when it comes to math and reading skills.

Likewise, policymakers are maintaining familiar positions as they debate the best way to boost student achievement.

In the second year of the statewide MCA-II test, students overall showed little considerable gain or drop in proficiency, according to the state Department of Education.

Most Minnesota students in grades 3-8 are tested in math and reading. In addition, 10th graders take the reading exam and 11th graders are tested in math.

Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said last year's results showed few significant changes from 2005-06, but noted that the test is more rigorous than a previous exam and that it could take longer to see marked improvement.

"This is not a surprise," she said of the results.

Seagren, a former teacher and GOP legislator, said Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's education reform initiatives that have become law, including special math and science training for teachers, will help boost scores in the future. Other Pawlenty proposals, such as more high school reforms, also could play a role.

"There's no once-over bullet" to improving student achievement, she said.

Those reforms cost money and many school districts are still struggling to pay for special education instruction and other basic programs, Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said.

Stumpf, who leads the Senate early childhood and public school funding committee, said test scores would improve if more schools could offer all-day kindergarten and more early childhood programs.

"There is a point where you just can't continue to move forward without actually making greater investments," he said.

The test results revealed that on average:

-- Female students across the board scored higher in reading than did their male classmates. Neither gender consistently outperformed on the math test.

-- Overall, students' ability to meet or exceed the reading standard dropped by up to 5 percentage points from 2006 to 2007.

-- More students met or exceeded the math standard in the second year.

-- Older students scored lower in reading than did younger students.

-- Eleventh-graders scored dramatically lower in math than did any other age group. Only 30 percent met or exceeded the standards.

-- Poor students scored at least 20 percentage points lower in math and reading than did other students.

The MCA-II is the main testing component used to determine whether schools meet benchmarks of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Graduation rates, attendance and participation in the standardized tests also influence that determination.

The Education Department will release those results at the end of August, Seagren said.

School district should consider two things as they review the test results, said Charlie Kyte of the Association of Minnesota School Administrators.

Districts that receive special state aid to help impoverished students should make sure those dollars are targeted to those students, "not just sort of funding other things in their schools because they're short of money," he said.

Also, Kyte said, schools could consider using that poverty aid to open summer school programs for poor students.

School districts already received their overall MCA-II scores. Individual student results will be sent to districts in mid-August. Schools decide when and how to provide that information to parents.