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Patriot Perspective: The "ABCs" of the MCA-III

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In education, as in other professions, we are surrounded with acronyms — NWEA, ACT, GPA, R-CBM, COGAT, IAS, OLPA and the list goes on.

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Each acronym is important in our work with students. They stand for various documents, procedures, data and assessments. They become commonplace in practice and a part of our language.

Attending parent-teacher conferences last week, many Pequot Lakes parents were introduced to one of our newest acronyms, the MCA-III. The MCA-III is a new reading test administered for the first time last spring. Individual Student Reports (ISR) of this test will be mailed to parents with fall report cards, so the timing is right for the “ABCs” of the MCA-III.

The MCA-III is the third version of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment for Reading. A new version of the test is created each time the state Legislature approves an adoption of new standards. Standards, or learning expectations, are determined by the Minnesota Department of Education through stakeholder meetings and review.

The MCA-III is aligned to standards commonly referred to as the Common Core. The Common Core has two sets of standards, Math and English Language Arts. Most of the United States have adopted both sets of the Common Core. Minnesota adopted the English Language Arts Standards in their entirety (with a few Minnesota additions) in 2010.

In adopting these standards, students are to advance through the years mastering grade-specific benchmarks in reading, writing, speaking, listening and language. It is expected they will gain skills in a cumulative progression and become fully literate, engaged young individuals. Individuals who demonstrate independence, possess deep content knowledge, comprehend as well as critique, and understand other perspectives and cultures.

The MCA-III is reflective of those rigorous expectations. The test questions require students to think more deeply about what they read, to go beyond basic recall. Students read and respond to both literature and informational text, identifying information, inferences, central ideas and themes. Students are also expected to find evidence, summarize, analyze and compare text to text. They are asked to interpret words, language, phrases, tones and point of view.

Additionally, they need to be able to analyze the structure of texts, how sentences, paragraphs and larger portions of the text relate to each other.

It was not surprising that districts throughout the state found a drop in proficiency scores from the MCA-II to the MCA-III. The new standards set more rigorous learning targets for our students and the results cannot be compared.

So what does this mean for parents and teachers as we support students on their literacy journeys — and subsequent achievement on the MCA-III?

We need to assess students’ reading abilities, tailor instruction and resources to needs and interests, monitor progress and allow students to express their reading knowledge and thoughts in a variety of ways.

We need to provide much time for reading stories, dramas, poems and myths from diverse cultures and different time periods, as well as informational texts from science, social studies and other content areas.

We need to confer with students about what they are reading, adding higher level thinking questions like “What did the author mean?” and “Why was that written?” and “What evidence is in the text to make you think that?” and “Where else have you seen that theme?” in addition to “What happened?” and “What did you learn?”

The MCA-III scores have arrived and are lower than the MCA-IIs. They provide new baselines of proficiency aligned to new rigorous standards. They prompt educators to shift instructional practices and strategies to meet new learning targets. And as we adjust to the new expectations, it is our hope that our students will become better readers, stronger thinkers — and the reading scores will rise.

For more information on the Common Core or Minnesota State Assessments, visit the following websites: http://www.corestandards.org/ and http://www.mnstateassessments.org/item-samplers/.

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