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Too many standardized tests, not enough instructional time?

An advisory group convened late last year by Gov. Mark Dayton found that students spend far too much time taking state and federal standardized tests over the course of the academic year.

The Testing Reduction Advisory Group released its recommendations last month that include streamlining the required number of tests students must take in order to graduate from high school.

HF1392, sponsored by Rep. Peggy Bennett (R-Albert Lea), contains similar goals. But it takes the added step of eliminating the requirement that students must take the ACT – a college entrance test – in order to graduate. Instead, its provisions would treat the ACT as an optional test that the state would pay for in 11th or 12th grade.

The House Education Innovation Policy Committee approved the bill Tuesday on a divided voice vote and sent it to the House Higher Education Policy and Finance Committee. It has no Senate companion.

Dayton wrote to House and Senate education committee members last week to express his support for reducing the number of required tests students must take by one-third.

Bennett’s bill would not go that far, but it would reduce the number of tests students must take in order to graduate and restore state standards-based assessments that provide valuable feedback to teachers, parents and students. It would also allow students enrolled in grades 8-12 to take the high school Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) exams in reading, writing and math as an alternate assessment in order to graduate from high school. Currently, students must pass MCA exams in order to graduate from high school.

Opponents said the bill needs more time to be fully vetted by the committee and Department of Education before such drastic changes take place.

“Now we are asking this bill to come and totally change our student assessment system without getting the information we asked our executive branch to get for us,” said Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul).

But Bennett stressed the need to eliminate the amount of instruction time that standardized tests eat up through the course of the academic year.

“We need to make sure Minnesota's testing requirements are giving educators and school districts the information they need about student achievement, and work to eliminate those that are unnecessary or not aligned to our high state academic standards,” said Bennett, who retired from a 30-year teaching career upon her election to the House last year.

Schools turned “upside down” during springtime rush of testing

The Legislature passed a law in 2013 that stopped requiring graduates to pass statewide reading and writing tests. But the law currently requires students to take the ACT in order to graduate. That’s in addition to the MCAs and other college preparation tests that students are required to take and teachers are required to administer during the school day.

The months of March and April in particular are very hard on students, teachers and administration when myriad standardized tests take place, said Mark Grossklaus, principal at Albert Lea High School.

“This basically turns the high school upside down for several weeks,” Funk said, who added that computer labs up tied up for almost the entire month of March by students taking standardized tests.

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius expressed similar sentiments in a letter she wrote last month to chairs of House and Senate education committees that recommended policies to reduce standardized testing to less than 2 percent of instructional time. 

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