For years, the Saint Michael-Albertville school district has made it a goal for its students to score in the top 20th percentile in the state on their annual standardized tests. Information released at a recent board meeting shows the district’s 2015 average scores exceeded those goals with ease, ranking in the top 12.6 percent in the state on average. STMA scored in the top 7 percent in Minnesota’s science MCA, top 11 percent for math and top 15 percent in reading. ACT test results also ranked STMA in the top 15 percent in the state.
The 2015 average ranking held steady from last year but is higher than the previous three years, where STMA averaged more in the 18 percent range. The tests that went exceptionally well for STMA students last spring include math for grade 3, 5, 8 and 11 and reading for grades 4 and 8, all of which scored at or better than the 10th percentile in the state.
Tenth grade reading scores were the only 2015 test to fall below that 20th percentile benchmark. This test was also the only one to show a significant dip in scores from the previous year. In 2014, 71.5 percent of 10th grade students met or exceeded the reading benchmark; in 2015 that number had slipped to 59.8 percent.
Shari Ledahl, the district’s new coordinator for assessment and testing, said she doesn’t have a clear-cut answer for why the drop occurred, but assured the school board that the district won’t rest on its laurels on this issue.
“STMA has very strong scores, but that’s not something we sit on here,” Ledahl said. “We are always striving for continuous improvement. This is something we will delve into further and see if we can really pinpoint why it occurred and work to improve.”
High school assistant principal Jolene Herfel added that it may have been more difficult for students to take the reading test online for the first time, versus the paper/pencil test of prior years, and she also cited technical problems with the testing company, which caused trouble around the state, as a hindrance. She said reading would be a major focus for them at the high school level this year.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, even the district’s youngest learners at Bright Beginnings preschool are seeing a new push for testing, which the district says will help to better prepare them for kindergarten. This year’s preschool students are learning curriculum that more closely aligns with kindergarten readiness, and they have begun administering the DIBELS test to preschool students to monitor their behavioral and academic readiness.
Kindergarteners also take the DIBELS test for early literacy benchmarks, and Ledahl said the 2015 scores show 97 percent of students are at or above the benchmarks.
“What’s important as we move forward is how we are going to use these results for the next year,” superintendent Dr. Jim Behle said. “While we pride ourselves that we’ve increased steadily throughout the years and that we are above the state averages, in the end for us it’s about what that means for how we deliver curriculum and instruction.”