Administration disappointed with basic skills test scores

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 5/5/99.

The test results are back on the Minnesota eighth grade basic skills test. Paynesville eighth graders recorded lower scores than last year. Sixty-nine percent of the students taking the test passed reading and 70 percent passed the math test.

Statewide, the 1999 scores improved over the 1998 levels. According to Dr. Christine Jax, Children, Families, and Learning Commissioner, the percentage of state public school eighth graders scoring 75 percent or more on the reading test increased by 7.1 points. On the math test, the change was statistically stable, declining one-half point.

One hundred and ten Paynesville eighth grade students took the basic skills test in January.

The tests are designed to serve as a "safety net" to ensure high school graduates have a minimum competency in reading, mathematics, and writing. Most students, working at grade level or above, will pass the tests on their first try. Other students need extra support and time to pass these tests.

Basic reading and math skills are needed to function in adult life. The basic standards tests in reading and math are one part of the graduation standards. Students from the class of 2000 and beyond must pass these tests in order to be eligible to graduate from a Minnesota public high school.

In the eighth grade, there were 32 students not passing the math portion of the test and 34 still needing to pass the reading test.

Of the nine juniors taking the reading test, five passed. Four still need to pass the reading test before they graduate in 2000. Of the six students retaking the math test, all six failed and need to retake it in July. There was a total of 27 high school students taking the reading test, 15 passed.

Danith Clausen, Paynesville curriculum coordinator, is confident the high school students still needing to pass the tests will be able to do so before graduation. "The juniors still have three or four opportunities to retake the test," she said.

Paynesville had eight eighth graders with only two or less wrong in the math test and 13 in reading.

"I'm optimistic about the scores. Sure, the test scores are lower than last year, but we had seven students who missed passing by only one or two problems," Deb Gillman, middle school principal, said.

Gillman said the test scores are being mailed to the homes of eighth graders this week. The letters explain the test scores and the options parents have available to them if their student did not pass. If parents do not receive a letter by Friday, they should contact the middle school office.

One option available to parents is summer school. Summer school will once again be offered to reinforce what students need to know in order to pass the test. Students enrolled in summer IPS will need to make a choice whether they take IPS or summer school.

"The parents will need to decide what classes their students will be taking this summer," Gillman said. She recom-mends that if a student has a test score below 60 percent, they should consider summer school instead of IPS.

Clausen said most students who fail to pass as eighth graders usually pass as ninth graders. "Another year's maturity will make a big difference and realizing if they go slow through the test they will do better," Clausen said. The students are given a three-hour time period to take the test. "Students, on an average, took longer to take the test this year," Clausen said. "There is no need to rush through the test."

"I feel we'll be able to get the students to pass the tests before graduation," Clausen said.

John Janotta said classes were offered to high school students twice a week for four weeks after school in January prior to the state testing.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the classes helped the students pass the test," Janotta said. The classes are optional. Math and reading classes will again be offered this summer before the next testing dates in July.

The basic skills tests will be given again on July 27 and 28 to those not passing.

"If we give Minnesota students, teachers, and parents goals and standards, they will reach them," Christine Jax, Children, Families, and Learning Commissioner, said.

"Our students continue to make progress in learning basic skills as our schools improve the teaching of those skills," Jax said. "We still need to make more progress, particularly on math skills. But these results are very encouraging, especially since reading gains are happening across all gender, ethnic, and other lines."

In Minnesota, 65,405 eighth graders took the basic standards test. Of those, 49,180 or 75.2 percent, met the state's passing mark of 75 percent on the reading test, and 70.2 percent passed the math test.

Among the state schools with scores of 90 percent or better on the two tests were: Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (90-90); Village School of Northfield (100-80); Wayzata (92-89); United South Central (94-91); Lanesboro (94-94); Edina (91-90); Lynd (91-91); and Milroy (94-94).

The results of the 10th grade writing tests will be released on May 12.

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