Congrats to District 911 students, educators, families on reading progress

By Joe Nathan
Contributing Writer

Standardized test results released last week show that Cambridge-Isanti School District students made progress in reading, and still have work to do in math. While standardized tests are only one of many important ways to measure student and school progress, this year’s results provide valuable information.

The best news is in reading. The percentage of Cambridge-Isanti district students who reached the “proficiency” level, as measured by Minnesota’s Comprehensive Assessment(MCA) increased from 72 percent in 2009-10 to 77 percent last spring. Statewide, the percentage of students passing the reading test increased from 72 to 75 percent. I think the strong success in reading is a real tribute to Minnesota’s students, educators and families.

These are very challenging times. I don’t have to list the array of economic problems, and partisan political battles. Way too many people are unemployed, or under-employed. Yet, despite all this, educators and families helped a growing percentage of young people reach proficiency in reading. Congratulations.

Scores were down in math in the Cambridge-Isanti School District and across the state. Minnesota Department of Education officials said this is due, as noted in a press release, ‘due in large part to a new assessment designed to measure student’s grasp of more difficult content.” In a press release, Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius explained, “This year’s test will set a baseline for us to measure our improvement over the next several years. Just as we have with 11th grade math scores and grades 3 – 8 MCA II reading scores, we believe we’ll continue to see continued gains in student mastery of the new rigorous standards.”

Statewide the percentage of students passing the math test declined from 66 to about 57 percent. However, the percentage of 11th graders passing the state’s math test increased from 43 to 48 percent. So at both elementary and high school level, more work is needed.

Complete results are available not only for districts, but also for individual schools, and even for specific grade levels in schools. You can find them on the Minnesota Department of Education website,

When purchasing a car, most of us don’t just look at one factor, whether it’s gas mileage, safety rating, ranking in various consumer magazines, special features, etc. The same is true in judging a school.  Yes, we ought to look at the test scores.  We should look at whether a growing percentage of students is passing the statewide tests. But we also should be looking at factors like safety, attendance, and how families, students and graduates feel about the school. Families may also have other criteria, such as what clubs, sports and other curricular programs are available at the school. This isn’t a plea for passivity.  The tests help identify both progress,and the need for considerably more work in math. But I think it’s important to provide a full, fair picture. These results do show progress in reading, a critical area. Thanks to families, educators and students for helping make this happen.

Joe Nathan, formerly a public school teacher, directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. Reactions welcome, [email protected]