Minnesota: Where Many of the Students are Making Progress in Science

By Sean Cavanagh — July 21, 2009 1 min read
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Not all the students could claim to be above average, as they are in Lake Wobegon, but many of Minnesota’s schools saw their test scores rise on the state’s science tests, across districts of all sizes, and across ages and ethnic groups.

What’s worth noting is that the results on the state’s science exams could actually be seen as fairly modest, compared to the Minnesota’s recent showing on an international test, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS. Defying recent American tradition, Minnesota’s 4th graders outperformed almost all foreign nations on that international test in science, and the state’s 8th graders also fared very well, too. As one math-and-science advocate quoted in the above-linked story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune says, while the test scores show improvement, only a minority of students are reaching “proficiency” in many categories. Overall, the results reveal the state’s commitment to setting high standards on its exams, he suggests.

One characteristic of Minnesota’s science-testing program also caught my eye: the state’s exams in that subject are being given entirely online, rather than by paper and pencil, according to the story, and they ask students to simulate experiments. It’s a feature that many science advocates say is important, in order to encourage more in-depth teaching in of science in classrooms, rather than simple memorization. But I’ve heard of few states actually taking this step. I also notice that despite the broad progress in science on the test, you don’t hear a lot of crowing from Minnesota officials about improved scores, at least not in the story. For the most part, you hear them talking about how far they have to go.

Maybe that’s the way it’s done in high-performing states.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.