Grad rates up, achievement flat in metro schools

High school graduation rates have increased, but achievement levels remain low for Minneapolis and St. Paul public school students, according to an annual report by local education nonprofit Generation Next.

The report found 64 percent of Minneapolis and St. Paul public school students graduated in four years in 2016, up from 52 percent in 2013. It found all races and ethnicities made a jump of at least 9 percent, including a 20-percent increase by Hispanic students.

Students continue to struggle to hit key educational benchmarks, however. The report found the third-grade reading proficiency rate has remained flat at 38 percent over the past four years. The eighth-grade math proficiency rate has decreased to 37 percent from 42 percent.

Minority students continue to perform well behind their white peers in both categories.

“We have not met our goal for racial equality and social justice,” Generation Next Executive Director Michelle Walker said.

The report was the third by Minneapolis-based Generation Next, which aims to close achievement and opportunity gaps in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The organization focuses on six areas: Kindergarten readiness, third-grade reading, eighth-grade math, social-emotional learning, high school graduation and post-secondary attainment.

The report found improvements in three areas of kindergarten readiness: The number of slots for early-childhood programs, the number of 3-year-olds receiving a health and developmental screening and the number of children waitlisted for subsidized child care.

There were nearly 2,000 more early childhood slots in 2016 than in 2015, according to the report. The number of children waitlisted for subsidized child care dropped from 4,200 in 2013 to 2,800 this year.

Generation Next also found the number of 3 year olds receiving a health and developmental screening increased 24 percent. Screening is an important indicator of kindergarten readiness, the report says

“The system is getting better,” Walker said. “There’s more understanding and conversation about screening.”

Proficiency in reading and math has remained flat, however. The report found Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment scores have not improved over the past four years in third-grade reading or eighth-grade math.

Generation Next looks at third-grade reading because that’s when students began reading to learn rather than learning to read, the report says. It looks at eighth-grade math because that’s when students are exposed to algebra, a subject that’s key to their future success, Walker said.

More than 70 percent of white Minneapolis and St. Paul third-graders were proficient in reading in 2016, the report found. No minority group was above 45-percent proficient, and fewer than 20 percent of Hispanic students were proficient.

The report found a similar pattern in eighth-grade math. About 55 percent of white eighth graders were proficient in 2016, compared to about 25 percent of Hispanic eighth graders and 20 percent of black eighth graders.

The report looked at all public school students in Minneapolis and St. Paul, including students who attend charter schools.

Social-emotional learning added

Generation Next recently added social-emotional learning to its benchmark list, noting its importance to student achievement. The organization did not have data past 2013 on this measure, and it only had data from St. Paul.

Minneapolis tracks social-emotional measures, such as school connectedness and persistence, on its spring survey, the district’s Executive Director of Research, Evaluation and Accountability Eric Moore said. The district is working with a Chicago-based organization on social-emotional learning measures.

The report also found that while high school graduation rates have increased, ACT scores have remained flat. Minneapolis students averaged a 20.4 on the ACT in 2015, compared to 21.1 in 2013.

The report also looked at post-secondary attainment among the high school graduating class of 2008. It found 38 percent of those students had earned an associate’s degree or higher, compared with a metro-wide attainment rate of 51 percent among 25 to 64 year olds.

Fifty-two percent of white students attained a degree, while 26 percent of black students and 24 percent of Hispanic students had one.

Generation Next is working with the Minneapolis and St. Paul districts to better identify ninth graders who are not on track to graduate. Ninth grade outcomes are the greatest predictor of students graduating on time, Minneapolis Associate Superintendent Cecilia Saddler said at a recent School Board meeting.

The Minneapolis and St. Paul districts worked with Generation Next to implement a system for tracking and helping ninth graders who are behind. Minneapolis began its program last year at Patrick Henry and Roosevelt high schools and implemented it at its nine core high schools this fall.

It appears to be working. The number of ninth graders who failed a class fell 6 percent in quarter one of this year compared to the first quarter last year, according to the district. That included an 11-percent decrease for Hispanic ninth graders and an 8-percent decrease for African American ninth graders.

“It’s a great start, and now we’re digging into the programming,” Moore said. “It’s been a great learning process.”