Flaws in Minnesota’s testing landscape work against student learning

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by Brian Washington

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A state audit is highlighting several major flaws connected to Minnesota’s standardized testing landscape, and educators are calling for change.

“One thing is obvious after reading this report. The taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth from this sprawling system of state and local standardized testing,” said Denise Specht, a fourth-generation teacher who heads up Education Minnesota, which represents 80,000 educators from across the state.

The Office of the Legislative Auditor released its findings earlier this week. Educators have zeroed in on what they call four major flaws. They include the following:

  • Teachers are spending too much time teaching and students too much time learning how to take standardized tests. During the 2015-16 school year, more than 300 schools reported spending five weeks or more on testing.
  • The excessive amount of time dedicated to the testing season even impacts those students not required to take tests. That’s because testing preparation and administration ties up computer labs and libraries and results in additional duties for educators and counselors.

    Click here to read the complete report.
  • State testing laws and mandates are pointless and fail to provide an authentic measurement of student progress in relation to college and career readiness.
  • The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs), the main standardized test the state uses to meet federal requirements, are not designed to help improve individual instruction.

If the state wants to get federal grant money, it has to meet certain testing requirements. Last year, Minnesota got $325 million in federal grants. However, the audit found that state-mandated tests are putting a strain on district resources. The audit didn’t calculate how much money local districts spent on testing, but did note that many districts are forced to add temporary staff during testing season.

It also concluded that educators get more out of district-level assessments, but, unfortunately, they cannot be used to meet federal testing requirements.

“It’s past time for districts, the state and federal governments to streamline all of these assessments so educators get some useful data without disrupting the whole school for a month,” said Specht.

The good news is the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, promises to provide states with new options regarding student assessment. Education Minnesota is currently working with parents, community leaders, and state education officials to come up with a state ESSA plan.

Specht believes Minnesota needs testing reforms that will give educators more time to teach, students more time to learn, and use taxpayer dollars more efficiently. She’s also hoping the state will eventually get to a point where it relies less on standardized tests and more on educator input to evaluate how students are learning.

“The MCAs can be a useful snapshot of the statewide school system, but the auditor confirmed they can be misleading for individual students,” said Specht. “If parents want to know how their children are doing in school, they should ask someone who knows the students’ names. Ask an educator—not a test score.”

Reader Comments

  1. You don’t make the pig any fatter by measuring it all the time. Better to give it time to eat if you want to fatten it.

    Likewise, testing all the time doesn’t make students any more capable. Instructional time does.

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