2020-2021 MCA test results reviewed

As the school year started in September, a substitute teacher shortage became apparent for the Forest Lake Area School District as high rates of teacher absences occurred. Superintendent Steve Massey proposed an approach to work through the district’s substitute teacher shortage to hire 11 substitutes to be available when needed. 

“They would be, essentially, dedicated subs that would be not permanently assigned to a building. They would be assigned to a building, but also be available to work elsewhere in the district,” Massey said. 

Massey requested approval for the proposal at the school board meeting on Thursday, Oct. 7. The proposal was approved 4-0. Board members Jeff Peterson, Julie Corcoran, Gail Theisen and Rob Rapheal approved the proposal, with Kate Luthner and Alex Keto abstaining as the two are both subs in the area. (Jill Olson was absent.)

The proposal offers positions for 11 substitute staff members to be paid $180 per day. The funding is coming from the federal emergency relief funds, like ESSER, the school district received throughout the pandemic and can be used through next year. 

Keto asked if these positions would be available through the end of the 2021-22 school year: Massey confirmed they would. 

“Having these people already on the front end, signed up, ready to go, committed and available daily will be an enormous help for our system,” Massey said.

“I’m just glad that we’re doing that. … As hard as it is to get bus drivers, it’s just as hard to get substitute teachers,” board member Julie Corcoran said.  

Board member Gail Theisen added: “I just really am pleased with this. I think it just lends a lot of stability to the system, to the school buildings, to the building principal and the other staff, and of course students to have that stability and that familiarity.” 

MCA test results

Lloyd Komatsu, assessment and evaluation coordinator for the district, presented the results of the MCA (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments) tests and explained how the pandemic skewed the results. 

“Last year was a rather exceptional year, with learning model shifts and changes. … But it’s still important, data is data,” Massey prefaced before Komatsu presented the results. 

The Department of Education did not require standardized testing during the previous school year, 2019-2020, so there is no data. Even though testing was required at the end of the 2020-2021 school year, there was no weight put on the results. 

“We were in a situation where we were getting the measurements, but the weight of those measurements wasn’t really there. … It wasn’t as high stakes as it typically is,” Komatsu said. 

Komatsu added that the reason for testing normally but with low stakes was to see how the pandemic affected students’ learning and retaining information compared to previous years and Minnesota Academic Standards. 

“Getting some data will tell us something, although we’ll have to take it with a grain of salt,” he added.

The Minnesota Department of Education required all standardized testing to be in person for 2021; however, Komatsu said, fewer students attended the in-person testing session, which increased the margin of error in the results. 

He added that testing in each category — reading, math and science — have a normal pre-pandemic participation rate of 95% in the Forest Lake Area School District and statewide. This year’s results yielded a 75% participation rate for math and reading, and science participation was in the high 60s statewide. 

“Participation in reading [tests in Forest Lake] was better than statewide, and participation in reading at Forest Lake was better than participation in math. Participation in math at Forest Lake was worse than participation in math statewide. … Participation in science at Forest Lake was about the same as statewide,” Komatsu explained to the school board. 

He explained that low participation rates make it more difficult to trust the test results, because they do not accurately represent the school’s academic body. However, the reading test results, with higher test participation rates, would be the most reliable for Forest Lake among the three categories. 

“Between 7 and 10% fewer students scored in the proficient range in 2021 compared to 2019,” Komatsu said about Forest Lake’s reading scores. 

Also, the percentage of Forest Lake  students scoring in the proficient range decreased by 10-12% in math and 7-9% in science.  In all three categories, the FLAS proficiency range dropped more compared to the statewide scores. Students’ MCA scores are considered proficient in the subjects, if their test results meet or exceed Minnesota’s academic standards for their grade levels.

“The amount of difference is probably greater than we would normally expect over a two-year period. Which implies it may take two years to return to where we were before the pandemic,” Komatsu said, but added it’s just an estimate because scores might have been the same if participation remained normal. 

“It’s going to be interesting to see what happens this year,” Corcoran said. 

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