Minnesota reading, math scores decline sharply during pandemic

By: - August 27, 2021 5:00 am

Detroit Public Schools Community District students and teacher at Ronald Brown Academy (Photo: Ken Coleman/Michigan Advance)

Minnesota students’ scores on statewide standardized tests fell precipitously in spring 2021, following more than a year of distance learning and disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to results released Friday by the Minnesota Department of Education.

Roughly 44% of students met state standards in math, down from 55% in spring 2019, when tests were last administered. Just over 52% of students scored as “proficient” in reading, compared to 59% in 2019.

The results of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) provide the first snapshot of the effects of the pandemic on Minnesota students, since the tests — which are the only assessments offered statewide — were canceled in spring 2020. And, the picture this year is incomplete: More than 20% of eligible students opted out of the tests. 

Although test scores aren’t a perfect measurement of student learning, experts say they’re key in helping teachers and policymakers track progress and identify which students are most in need of support.

“The statewide assessment results confirm what we already knew — that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our students’ learning and they need our help to recover,” Heather Mueller, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education, said in a statement.

Minnesota’s test scores had improved little in the years before the pandemic, despite growing urgency around closing the state’s worst-in-the-nation racial disparities in academic opportunity and achievement. Students of color — who were less likely to have access to high-quality remote instruction, technology or extra academic support — saw the steepest declines in test scores this spring.

In line with national trends, losses were greater in math than in reading. Fewer than 20% of Black and Indigenous students in Minnesota scored as “proficient” in math, a decline of more than nine percentage points for both groups. Among Latino students, about 21% met or exceeded state standards, compared to 31% in 2019. The percentage of white students who received proficient scores fell 12 points, to about 52%.

“The data should motivate us to act with a sense of urgency, making decisions to get kids back on track, and implement best practices that actually work to improve learning,” said Josh Crosson, executive director of the nonprofit EdAllies, in a statement. “We don’t have time to sugarcoat this problem any longer or spend our energy gap-gazing.”

The Minnesota Department of Education also announced Friday a new initiative to aid academic recovery during the upcoming school year. The Collaborative Minnesota Partnerships to Advance Student Success will provide training for teachers on supporting students of varying needs and backgrounds, data analysis and literacy support and best practices for helping students catch up.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.