Latest test scores show large achievement gaps in Twin Cities schools

The latest test results released by the state of Minnesota show a stubborn problem persists: an achievement gap between white and minority students, with experts and educators saying the latest results show more needs to be done to address the issue.

“I think anybody who cares about kids in our communities is not happy with the results that we’re seeing in Minneapolis,” said Michael Thomas, Chief of Academics, Leadership and Learning for Minneapolis Public Schools.

The 2017 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) showed only 42.5% of Minneapolis public school students in grades 3-8 and 10th grade met or exceeded standards in math. And just  43.6 percent of students met those standards in reading.

In St. Paul, the numbers were 35.2% in math and 38% percent in reading.

Both districts have high populations of students in poverty and persistent gaps between white students and students of color.

“When you look at affordable housing, or health and wellness in our community, I mean those are factors out of our control," Thomas said. "But those are factors are brought into our classrooms each and every day,” 

To address the gaps, Thomas said MPS has started a new reading curriculum for students in Kindergarten through fifth grade. They're also changing the way student progress is tracked.

“We’re going to tightly progress monitor our kids, not wait until MCAs come out in the spring," he said. "We want to be able to see month by month what’s happening with our students so that we can analyze trends that are emerging."

Some experts say intervention is needed even earlier in a child's education, citing research that shows if students are behind in Kindergarten, it’s hard for them to catch up. 

Former Minneapolis Federal Reserve official Art Rolnick is now with the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, and has been advocating for a $400 million investment into early childhood education.

“We can easily afford to do this, in fact I would argue we can’t afford not to,” Rolnick said. “These are the future workers of our economy. If we don’t invest now, our economy is going to suffer down the road.”

Educators point out that MCAs are only one tool in measuring student performance.

Thomas said MPS teachers and administrators have also engaged in professional development aimed at being more culturally responsive to students.

One initiative already in place, the Office of Black Male Student Achievement, is being touted as a success, with students involved seeing an increase in GPA over those students who aren’t involved in the program.