Lockers are cleaned out, desks are empty, and Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) scores are rolling in. Thursday, Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Middle School Principal Mark Anderson revealed preliminary math score data that showed district Middle School students made significant gains in math. Some of the increases, he said, were the biggest ever at the school.
MCA math improvements
The MCA test scores are not released to the public for months after the tests are taken, but with the introduction of computer testing, school officials are able to examine raw testing data right away.
Anderson did not provide a detailed account of the yet-to-be-released data, but told the School Board of several impressive strides made in math in every grade.
Fifth-graders had the lowest number of students ever who did not meet standards in math, reported Anderson. In sixth grade, 19 percent of students exceeded state standards in math — the highest percentage in that grade the district has seen. This year's seventh grade students, of which only 31 percent passed the math test in fifth grade, exceeded that number by over 20 percentage points this year, Anderson said. Thirty-five percent of eighth graders exceeded math standards on the test, also the highest number of students on Winona's books to do so.
"That's a huge improvement for us," explained Anderson. "The math I was really excited about. We really moved the bar from where we were in the spring and fall."
Board members celebrated the news as a sign that efforts to improve curriculum were paying off. "This is real nice to see," said board member Steve Schild. "This is exactly what we hope to see."
In addition to MCA tests, the Middle School employs a test called the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) assessment. It is a test that students took this year in the fall, winter and spring, and it allows teachers access to detailed information about individual student achievement. It shows teachers where individual students are struggling, and what data they have mastered, allowing teachers to tailor instruction to areas in which students need more help.
The NWEA tests are not like the typical standardized tests in which students in each grade are asked the same questions. The NWEA tests are adaptive, and respond when a student struggles in a certain area to better pinpoint what concepts have not been learned. For example, if a fifth grade student begins the test and gets an answer wrong, the online exam will give the student an easier question next. Depending on whether the student can answer that question correctly, the test will continue to adapt the questions in order to give teachers detailed information about which content areas the student understands, and which he doesn't.
Anderson reported NWEA scores to the School Board that showed Middle School students were performing at or above the national average in every grade and in both reading and math. Eighth grade students exceeded the national norm in math by a full ten points, and all grade levels showed gains in reading and math between the fall test and tests taken in the spring.
Anderson said the NWEA tests have helped teachers focus on content areas that groups are struggling with, and said that the effort has paid off with improved scores this year in the math MCAs. "It really helps us identify students who might be struggling," he explained, adding that the NWEA tests have helped improve curriculum as well.