ST. PAUL (AP) -- Third- and fifth-graders posted big gains on reading and math exams, the fourth straight year scores have climbed, according to Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment results released Wednesday.
The tests, given in March, measure whether elementary students demonstrate a grasp of the subjects at, above or below their grade level. Fifth-graders also take a writing exam, for which results improved as well.
For fifth-graders, a full 63 percent performed above their grade level in reading, 55 percent reached that benchmark in writing and 50 percent did so in math. That compares with last-year's above-grade-level performance of 52 percent in reading, 42 percent in writing and 45 percent in math.
For this year's third-graders, 49 percent read above their grade level and 53 percent excelled in math. A year ago, it was 44 percent and 47 percent, respectively.
Children, Families and Learning officials were pleased with the results.
"Our focus on high standards is paying off in better teaching and improved student performance," Assistant Commissioner Jessie Montano said. "When we ask students and educators for better results, they respond."
She noted that in all ethnic groups and demographic categories, more students performed at the highest levels. She attributed the gains to more aggressive teaching of reading and math, such as weaving those skills into other parts of the curriculum.
Unlike the basic skills tests first taken in eighth-grade, the elementary school exams are used mostly as a barometer and are not linked to graduation.
The MCAs cover a broader range of ability than the basic skills tests, which are designed to determine whether students have minimum competencies to function in society after high school.
Students are not scored on a pass-fail basis. They get both a raw score and are grouped into four achievement levels: Level I, for students performing below grade level; Level II, at grade level; Level III, above grade level; and Level IV, "well beyond" grade level.
In reading and writing, a higher percentage of fifth-graders fit into Level III than any other category. In math, 38 percent performed at Level II and another 37 percent performed at Level III. Also notable this year was the percentage grouped into Level IV in reading, at 24 percent compared with 16 percent a year ago.
Only 11 percent of fifth-graders scored at the lowest level in reading and math and 4 percent did in writing. That compares with 14 percent for reading and math and 8 percent for writing in 2000.
The improvement among third-graders was less dramatic but still impressive to state officials.
In reading, 35 percent of students performed at grade level, while 33 percent scored above grade level and 16 percent exceeded expectations for a third-grader. Sixteen percent performed at Level I, compared with 18 percent last year.
In math, 39 percent were grouped in the above-grade-level category, 14 percent were in the top bracket and 10 percent were in the lowest category. In 2000, more students -- 43 percent -- were on par with grade level and the same percentage struggled.
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