Report confirms persistent achievement gap, students unprepared for college

As educational disparities continue to plague Minnesota students across race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, it’s clear the state needs to take a different approach to solving education shortcomings, according to an op-ed in the Star Tribune.

Written by Neel Kashkari and Alan Page, the op-ed points to a new report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis titled, “A Statewide Crisis: Minnesota’s Education Achievement Gaps.” Despite Minnesota’s attempts to close persistent achievement gaps, Kashkari and Page state, they haven’t worked, and we need to learn from other places in the nation that have improved outcomes for minority and low-income students. Efforts to close achievement gaps in New Orleans and New York are highlighted as innovative approaches to look into replicating. (I will dive into these success stories in another post.)

From maximizing student learning time to giving schools greater autonomy and remaining focused on actual student achievement, achievement gaps can close, according to Kashkari and Page.

And unless progress is made on that front, Minnesota will continue to fail its students: only 37% of low-income students of all races are proficient in math and reading, compared to 68% of their higher-income peers. When broken down by race, only 30% of African-American students perform at grade level, compared with 65% of white students.

But not everyone wants to admit these test score results paint a disturbing picture and are worth focusing on. Governor Tim Walz is shifting his education focus from assessment tests to graduation rates—a move even the Star Tribune Editorial Board cautions Walz on.

While helping students graduate is a “laudable goal,” higher graduation rates “won’t mean much if students receive diplomas without mastering basic skills or being ready for college or the job market,” according to the Star Tribune Editorial Board.

Kashkari and Page echo this sentiment. Minnesota is graduating an increasing proportion of students who are unprepared for college, despite the graduation gap between African-American students and white students narrowing from a 43 percentage point difference in 2003 to a 21 percentage point difference in 2018. “…[T]ests of college readiness show zero progress in closing the gaps in terms o[f] what students are actually learning,” Kashkari and Page write. “It looks like we’re graduating students who aren’t prepared for success.”