Minnesota Near the Top in Reading

Emily Johns, Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul), March 24, 2010

Minnesota’s students once again outperformed much of the nation on reading tests in 2009, but the achievement gap between black and white students hasn’t budged in almost 20 years, according to test results released Wednesday.

The state’s persistent, vexing achievement gap has become a long-term blemish on an otherwise good reputation for educational performance. The 2009 results of what’s commonly called the “Nation’s Report Card” show that Washington, D.C., is the only jurisdiction with a black-white gap statistically larger than Minnesota’s in fourth grade, and that Connecticut is the only state with a larger gap in eighth grade, although some states didn’t report enough data to be counted.

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“We are really going to devote some significant additional money to trying to focus on our minority students and the achievement gap,” Seagren said, “. . . and we’re going to be looking at the whole continuum of schools, not only in elementary school, but middle and high school.”

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In addition, the state plans to use part of $34 million it recently received for the state’s lowest-performing schools to improve reading instruction for the state’s most at-risk students.

Educators can’t let the achievement gap’s stubbornness frustrate them, said Mike Savage, the educational coordinator at Forest Hills Elementary School in Eden Prairie, which saw its reading scores jump and its achievement gap narrow on state tests last year.

“We do not need to assume that a racial disparity is something that is just going to be there,” said Savage, who advocates research-based methods when he trains staff on how to teach reading. “It’s a question of how willing you are to meet the individual needs of students and how willing you are to know and understand that every child in your classroom has different needs.”

Complex causes

The gap between white and black fourth-graders hasn’t narrowed since 1992, the first year data were available. The same is true of eighth-graders since 1998, the first year of available data for that grade.

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Wednesday’s test results “should be the latest wake-up call to Minnesota that it’s time to seriously deal with the achievement gap,” President Tom Dooher said in a news release.

Dooher said the causes of the achievement gap are “complex,” with roots in socioeconomic issues.

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