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Unpacking the Achievement Gap in Minnesota

Unpacking the Achievement Gap in Minnesota

Minnesota consistently ranks among the highest-performing states when it comes to education quality. However, as a recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis confirmed, there are persistent, significant gaps in the achievement of certain groups of Minnesota students as compared to others. In fact, two Minnesota government leaders even recently proposed a controversial state constitution amendment to address achievement gaps. But what does the achievement gap really refer to, and what’s being done to address it? There’s a lot to unpack when considering Minnesota’s achievement gap. Here, we’re digging into some of the state-testing data and leading research to provide a 30,000-foot view of this complicated, controversial issue.

Defining the Achievement Gap

According the Glossary of Education Reform: “The term achievement gap refers to any significant and persistent disparity in academic performance or educational attainment between different groups of students, such as white students and minorities, for example, or students from higher-income and lower-income households.”

This is a broad definition—and that is part of the challenge of addressing the achievement gap. It isn’t one single issue but instead multiple connected and overlapping issues. Most commonly, when the achievement gap is discussed, disparities in standardized test scores between white and nonwhite students are being referred to. However, it can also apply to graduation rates, college- and career-readiness indicators, and much more between a wide variety of student demographic groups. 

The Achievement Gap in Minnesota: Breaking Down the Data

Data from two different assessments, as well as graduation rates, can be used to illustrate achievement gaps in Minnesota. Below, we’ve broken down Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) math and reading proficiency results to demonstrate differences in achievement between racial and socioeconomic groups in Minnesota. We’ve also compared Minnesota’s achievement gaps to national averages by looking at National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) score gaps for various groups. Finally, we’ve compared four-year graduation rates by student demographic group in Minnesota to national averages.

MCA-III Math 2019 Results—Students Who Meet or Exceed Proficiency by Demographic Group

Retrieved from the Minnesota Report Card,Test Achievement Levels, Test Results and Participation: How are students performing on standards?” data tables

MCA-III Reading 2019 Results—Students Who Meet or Exceed Proficiency by Demographic Group

MCA-III Reading 2019 Results—Students Who Meet or Exceed Proficiency by Demographic Group

Retrieved from the Minnesota Report Card,Test Achievement Levels, Test Results and Participation: How are students performing on standards?” data tables

NAEP Math 2019 Student Groups and Gaps Data

NAEP Math 2019 Student Groups and Gaps Data

Retrieved from The Nation’s Report Card, Minnesota State Profile, Student Groups and Gaps data tables

NAEP Reading 2019 Student Groups and Gaps Data

NAEP Reading 2019 Student Groups and Gaps Data

Retrieved from The Nation’s Report Card, Minnesota State Profile, Student Groups and Gaps data tables

4-Year Graduation Rates 2016–17 by Demographic Group—Minnesota Students vs. National Average

4-Year Graduation Rates 2016–17 by Demographic Group—Minnesota Students vs. National Average

Retrieved from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Public high school 4-year adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) data table

What’s the Cause of Minnesota’s Education Achievement Gap?

Having outlined how broad the issue of the achievement gap is, it should come as no surprise that pinpointing concrete causes is consistently difficult. As explained by research from the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis, racial achievement gaps are traced back to public school segregation that was legally abolished with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Gaps are exacerbated by persistent economic inequities—leaving certain demographic groups and geographic areas with limited access to education resources, including well-qualified educators. Disciplinary practices that consistently push certain students out of the classroom also contribute to ongoing gaps.

The National Education Association (NEA) has summarized these coinciding and cyclical factors into a matrix that identifies a variety of factors organized by scope of what is within schools’ control, such as relation to quality teachers, and what is not, including student and family backgrounds and relation to funding. While not a complete explanation, this matrix is a helpful tool for education stakeholders to pinpoint specific challenges in their schools or communities and initiate meaningful discussions.

Resources for Minnesota Educators to Understand and Address Achievement Gaps

A number of national and state-specific programs are in place to help Minnesota educators understand and find solutions to the achievement gap. Here are some of the resources, initiatives, and funding opportunities currently available:

Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) Equitable Access to Excellent and Diverse Educators: Recognizing the need for cultural competence, this program works to ensure that all Minnesota students have access to highly qualified teachers who look like them and identify with their personal experiences.

MDE World’s Best Workforce: This initiative aims to support equitable student achievement by requiring school boards to adopt long-term strategic plans that address five key goals: kindergarten readiness, third-grade reading proficiency, racial and economic achievement gaps being closed; college and career readiness, and high school graduation.

MDE Achievement and Integration Program: This long-standing funding program provides extra state dollars to qualifying districts based on student demographic data. Funds are earmarked for district-led initiatives that promote racial and economic integration, reduce achievement gaps, and increase student access to diverse and effective teachers. This can include addition of select staff positions, certain technology purchases, and educator professional development.

The Nation’s Report Card: Data Tools: This robust database helps educators drill down into decades of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data to understand national and local trends in achievement across all student groups. State and district profile tools are available as well as customizable reports.

National Education Association: Achievement Gaps: The NEA provides an extensive library of resources and research to help educators better understand achievement gaps; build cultural competence; and meet the needs of students across all demographic groups, including students from racial minority groups and those in poverty.

How Edmentum Can Help

Closing achievement gaps requires knowledgeable, dedicated educators working closely with individual students. Technology is certainly not a silver bullet to address this challenge or even a starting point. However, technology can provide valuable, time-saving tools to support Minnesota educators as they tackle this difficult situation. Here are a few ways that Edmentum’s online programs for assessment, individualized learning, and digital curriculum can help address achievement gaps:

Minnesota’s achievement gap is a complex, difficult issue that will take continued time and effort to address. At Edmentum, we’re committed to working with you throughout this process and providing tools that can help in your innovative approaches to support more successful outcomes for all students.

sarah.cornelius@edmentum.com's picture

Sarah Cornelius is an Associate Product Manager at Edmentum and has been with the company since 2014. In her role, she works to provide educators with engaging and insightful resources. Sarah received her B.S. in Professional Communications and Emerging Media from the University of Wisconsin - Stout.