Posted: 08/02/15 13:03
by Dave Mindeman
The student test scores were released a few days ago and the data had some disappointments. Everyone is hoping and expecting for dramatic improvements, both in general scores and especially in the achievement gap. It looks like both are treading water right now.
First some observations:
1. The achievement gap is not improving and has gotten slightly worse in each of the last two cycles. We need even more focus on why this continues. And I am not convinced that testing is telling us what we need to know.
2. A chart breakdown examined the schools that were the lowest in scores while having the lowest percentage of students in poverty - an attempt at getting a control group. Three of the lowest 5 in scoring for math were charter schools. And the 5 lowest in reading were all charter schools. So obviously, more charter schools would not be a quick fix either.
3. Black, American Indian, and Hispanic students all have proficiency in the low to mid-30's. This seems to indicate that it is a multi-cultural problem, but also that poverty is playing a larger role.
4. It is still difficult to make direct comparisons because we keep tweaking the tests and we also have problems with the companies that score the tests. Can the data be trusted? Can it really be used for proper study of where we are at? These are important questions if testing is to be the sole criteria by which we measure our progress.
Now with those observations as background, are there things that we are doing right and are there things that can be done better?
A. Early Childhood. Governor Dayton has been focusing on early education during the last cycle. Obviously, this is not a short term fix. The benefits will not be felt for 5 to 10 years, but we need to be consistent about this. The current problems need to be addressed, yes, but that does not mean shifting our emphasis away from early ed. That is the long term solution and if we pull back in the middle of the investment, we will lose out on those long term goals.
B. It's Still About Money. Republicans complain that we are throwing money at the problem and getting no results. Well, when it comes to education investment, money is the method for finding the fixes. Yes, there will be times when we invest in something that doesn't work. But that only means that we need to learn from that and invest in something that has more potential. Cutbacks in funding only delay progress and cuts off our search for real solutions. Governor Dayton won't quit - we need a legislature that won't quit either.
C. Teachers. Republicans are quick to point fingers at teachers as part of the problem. But, quite frankly, the opposite is true. Teachers will be the solution if they are utilized properly. It is teachers who can see how kids are learning. It is teachers that can individualize the skills. It is teacher suggestions that we should be paying more attention to. And in addition, we need to compensate them fairly and subsidize recruitment of teachers who have experience dealing with minority achievement gaps.
Yes, the testing scores show us that we have many things to work on. But we also have to be sure we find the right areas that need to be worked on. Our education network is about to have another overhaul. Keeping the testing and the curriculum in such flux is counterproductive. But Minnesota still has to do better. Other states do not have the kind of achievement gap that we have, so obviously we are doing something wrong.
Let's not overthink this. Keep moving forward on early education. Keep true to the longer vision. Find ways to target minority education. And keep working on our students' overall environment - education, financial, and physical health.
We can and will do better, but only if we work as a team with the right tools.