Measuring progress. Inspiring action.

Ask A Researcher

February 2013

A new look at education progress measures

Allison Churilla

The Minnesota Compass team, along with Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassilius and Boston Scientific’s Director of Community Relations Marilee Grant, recently convened an Education Advisory Group to provide insight on key measures featured in our Education topic area. The group reviewed the current measures and guided several changes on the Minnesota Compass website.

Compass researcher Allison Churilla answers questions about the changes and the reasons behind them, and explains what the new 8th grade math achievement measure tells us.

Q. What changes are being made as a result of the Advisory Group's recommendations?

A. Within the education section, we have added an 8th grade math achievement key measure to replace the 11th grade math achievement key measure, which will be retired in April. Feedback from our advisory group indicated that math achievement needed to be captured at an earlier point for effective action. They also recommended that we add a postsecondary completion key measure to more fully track the cradle-to-career continuum. The new key measure will become available in the spring, under the Workforce topic. At the same time we will retire our 9th grade attendance key measure, which the group felt was less useful.

Q. How are 8th graders doing in math?

A. Statewide, 62 percent of Minnesota’s 8th grade students met or exceeded state math standards in 2012. This is a fairly impressive 9 percentage point increase from 2011, when 53 percent of 8th graders met the standards under the then newly-revised assessment. But the state continues to struggle with large achievement gaps in the share of 8th graders meeting or exceeding math standards:

Identifying disparities, like these gaps in student achievement, is an important component of Minnesota Compass’s aim to measure progress (or lack thereof) and inspire action.

We now also compare math proficiency by grade in school. In 2012, math proficiency was greatest among Minnesota’s 3rd grade students, at 76 percent.

Q. Why can’t I find state-to-state comparisons on math achievement?

A. . The short answer is that the advisory group favored a key measure that is specific to Minnesota! The longer answer is that while we always strive for key measures that are both nationally standardized and useful for comparisons between different groups within Minnesota, it is sometimes not possible to do both. In this case (and for the 3rd grade reading measure), the advisory group felt it was more important to have rich, actionable data about performance here in Minnesota, than it was to compare our outcomes to other states – particularly since High School Graduation Rates, and Adult Educational Achievement both allow national comparisons.

On Minnesota Compass, we track the share of 8th grade students meeting or exceeding proficiency on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA). These exams assess proficiency in reading and math at grade level, and test specifications are aligned with state academic standards. This means that, on these exams, math proficiency is specific to our state’s standards.

We rely on the MCAs to measure proficiency because data is available annually from the Minnesota Department of Education. Nearly all 8th grade students enrolled in public schools take the mathematics assessment, allowing us to provide Compass users with achievement data at the state, regional, county, and district level. We are also able to compare mathematics proficiency by race, income, gender, mobility, and special population to identify gaps in achievement.

If you’re interested in state-to-state comparisons of K-12 achievement, our Education – More Measures page has a link to State Profiles of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The NAEP is an assessment of student progress over time, and provides a common metric for states to compare achievement and growth.

Q. Why is there a break in the trend line?

A. Minnesota Academic Standards are the state’s definition of what students should know in each grade. There is a break in statewide and regional trends in 8th grade math achievement between 2010 and 2011 because state academic standards, and the assessments used to track student achievement on them have changed.

Each spring, public school students enrolled in grades 3-8 and high school are administered MCA exams. In the spring of 2011, students in grades 3 through 8 began taking the Mathematics MCA-III exam, an assessment aligned with 2007 state academic standards. The previous assessment, the MCA-II, was aligned with 2003 state academic standards. As a result, we strongly caution Compass users against comparing trends and drawing conclusions about math proficiency across these two tests because they are based on different test specifications.


Many thanks to our Education Advisory Group Co-Conveners, Dr. Brenda Cassellius and Marilee Grant. Their leadership and guidance was instrumental in convening successful and productive advisory group meetings!

Featured trend

Percentage of Minnesota adults age 25 or older with a bachelor's degree

Educational attainment among Minnesota’s adults continues to rise

Minnesota ranks among the 10 states with the highest shares of college-educated adults. Today, 37% of adults in Minnesota have a bachelor’s degree or higher, an increase of almost 10 percentage points since 2000.

See our educational attainment key measure for more on this topic.


Data Update


There are 20 counties in Minnesota in which at least one in five young children (age 0-5) lives in poverty

Foreign-born populations continue to grow as a proportion of the overall population, making up 9% of Minnesota’s population, up from 7% in 2010.

Approximately 38% of householders of color pay too much for housing.

The ratio of retirement-age adults (65+) to working-age adults (16-64) increased in 60 Minnesota cities, signaling disproportionate growth in the number of older adults compared to the working-age population.

Between 2016 and 2019, the share of Minnesota students who report being highly engaged in enrichment activities fell from 65% to nearly 60%.