Math MCA scores decline over past years

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Students review their Precalculus unit test by going over frequently missed questions with math teacher Sara Biermaier during class time. MCA tests should be treated in the same respect, where teachers encourage studying by reviewing material with students.

Just weeks ago, many students received their previous year’s MCA results. The MCAs are a state assessment which helps to measure how well students are performing relative to the state’s academic standards for college and career readiness.

The MCA test consists of three sections: math, reading and science.  The average scores show how many students are exceeding or meeting standards and those who are below standards, helping schools monitor the effectiveness of their teaching. The math MCA is taken by grade school students in third through eighth and eleventh grade.

The average math MCA score in the school district has been decreasing over the past five school years. The trend was statewide, as many other school’s scores decreased as well. About 61 percent of students met or exceeded state standards in 2014 and only 55.5 percent met or exceeded this year. While math MCA scores have been declining, reading and science scores have remained consistent and graduation rates have been increasing. 

“There may be a multitude of factors including having different students testing annually and different tests annually. Some students do not take the test and some students do not place a high value on this test,” math teacher Matt Hemenway said.

One way that administration at the high school has attempted to fill gaps in the math curriculum is by incorporating an Algebra 3 course, which many other high schools do not have. However, this course may not be reflected in math MCA scores as most of the material covered on the exam is taught in the courses before it.

“Stillwater traditionally has great math teachers, curriculum and students who are a little bit further ahead than the other students in the state, so everything that’s on that test you guys maybe learned as freshmen,” Assistant Principal Shelly Phernetton said.

The test is taken once per year throughout the elementary and middle school years, skipping a few in the high school grades. Students and staff members do not believe this is an accurate representation of their learning and teaching.

Phernetton explained that the MCA test is state mandated. This means that administration does not necessarily have any choice in whether or not to administer it. 

Hemenway added that in the past, they have planned a couple of days before the MCA testing days to review some major topics that will be covered. This includes review games, packets and general work time to ask questions.

Older students also have the ACT and other exams to take during their junior year. Eleventh grade students feel more pressure to do well on these college entrance exams, as well as tests and homework that are reflected on their GPA, therefore regarding the MCA test as less important.

Many students do very well, but the personal connection with students and the MCAs are “fuzzier” than connections between college entrance and AP exams and students according to Phernetton.

“We have a lot of students who are taking AP courses in their junior year, and the AP testing is shortly after MCA testing,” Phernetton explained. “I think if we surveyed, and I have informally had conversations with students, they would prioritize this test over that test because the results are more important to them.”

While scores are important for the state to be able to monitor student and teachers, they are merely a representation of a student’s ability to meet state standards on a particular day, not a measure of overall intelligence.

“I think it’s a worthy conversation to have regarding how do we best measure student growth. That’s a good conversation to have, it’s a big conversation though. I think student voice and asking is a really good first step to having that question really be examined,” Phernetton added.

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