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

workforce trend

Student proficiency on educational assessments remains flat

About 6 in 10 Minnesota students meet state standards in 3rd grade reading, 5th grade science, and 8th grade math. Trends in student achievement across all three measures of proficiency have been flat since 2013.  Large gaps by race and income persist, and the gap in 8th grade math proficiency by income has widened.
See more data on student proficiencies in math and reading.

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