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Minnesota students' science scores up

After a less-than-stellar showing on last year's inaugural Minnesota science test, the state's students made some gains on the computerized assessment this year.

Science scores

After a less-than-stellar showing on last year's inaugural Minnesota science test, the state's students made some gains on the computerized assessment this year.

Some districts in the area, including Moorhead, improved their Minnesota State Assessment II Science scores markedly. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, for instance, leaped 13 percentage points from a lackluster 35 percent last year. Other districts backtracked somewhat. But overall, proficiency in most districts remained below 50 percent, results that were released today show.

"We're pleased with the progress we've seen from last year, but we still have a lot of work to do," said Deputy Education Commissioner Chas Anderson.

Although districts are required to administer the test under the federal No Child Left Behind law, they don't face penalties for underperforming as they do on statewide reading and math assessments.

The test gauges science know-how in fifth and eighth grade and in high school through an interactive online format.


In statewide results, about 46 percent of the 181,600 students in three grade levels who were tested met or exceeded scoring benchmarks for their age, compared to roughly 40 percent last year.

Anderson had a twofold explanation for the gains: teachers' higher comfort level with the new assessment and the more intense focus on science recently. She said the state purposely set the cut score high on the science test, as it's gearing up to implement more rigorous science standards.

"We believe having high expectations for our students is a better policy because more of them will be ready for work and college after graduation," Anderson said.

In Moorhead, scores districtwide improved by almost 10 percent, to a 48 percent proficiency.

In D-G-F, physics and chemistry teacher Pat Rieder said, "We weren't happy with last year's results, and we really asked what we need to do differently."

Rieder said teachers spent a lot of time making sure they're covering all the state standards and filling in gaps last year's test results revealed.

Of area districts, Hawley stood out as the science champion with 60 percent overall proficiency and more than 80 percent among high school students. Superintendent Phil Jensen said the secret to the district's success is a balance between lecture and hands-on activities.

Anatomy and physiology teacher Bill Gottenborg said he and his colleagues try to spend time in the lab daily, even if it means students do some of their reading at home. He might deploy an EKG machine and stethoscopes in learning about the cardiovascular system, for instance.


"We try to engage the students in learning. They don't just sit there and take notes; they have to do a little thinking, too," he said.

Still, Jensen said, he and other state educators have some doubts about the format of the test.

"If less than half the students in the state score proficient, could there be something wrong with the test itself?" he said. "It's great to set high standards, but are they realistic?"

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529

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