Testing: Who wins, who loses with high stakes, standardized testing in Minnesota schools

Poster courtesy of Ricardo Levins Morales/RLM Arts

Standardized test scores determine everything from school funding to firing principals. They are used to determine whether schools are failing or succeeding. The “education reform” movement wants to require use of student test scores as a large part of teacher evaluation, tenure and lay-off decisions. While standardized test scores may not determine an individual student’s grades, they do impact students’ beliefs about whether they are succeeding or failing, “smart” or “stupid.”

The NCLB emphasis on examining the test scores of student sub-groups, organized by ethnicity, language learner status, income level and special education status, not just by grade level or school, has had some positive results. It’s led schools to pay more attention to the ways that the education system fails some groups of kids. Whether that attention has produced changes that benefit those students remains an open question. 

After writing a number of stories on special education in the Twin Cities, Alleen Brown wanted to look at standardized testing and how it affects special education students and school rankings. The story turned out to be complicated and important, and eventually grew into this series looking at testing in Minnesota schools, the messy and unclear transition from NCLB to MMR, and the ways that testing takes learning time away from students and makes many students and teachers feel like failures.

The series begins with the original issue of how standardized testing affects special education students. The stories that follow include perspectives on testing from two schools, two teachers, and an administrator who works with testing data.

When tests tell teachers nothing: Special needs not met by standardized tests by Alleen Brown, TC Daily Planet • Every spring at St. Paul’s Bridge View school for students with significant special needs, teacher Rachel Peulen spends three weeks administering a test that she knows will tell her next to nothing about her students.


At St. Paul’s Maxfield Elementary, low ranking masks real transformation by Alleen Brown, TC Daily Planet •  What the MMR score leaves out:
Three years of almost zero teacher turnover.
A 66 percent drop in the number of kids sent to the office for behavior.
Forty-three percent of families showing up to monthly parent engagement nights.
MCA test scores that are finally starting to inch up.
A school culture that works hard to respond to test data.

Winner or loser? Test scores for Minneapolis’s Kenny elementary school say both at the same time by Alleen Brown, TC Daily Planet • Under Minnesota’s new Multiple Measures Ranking system, which rates how effective schools are at coaxing high test scores out of their students, Kenny holds two conflicting labels. It’s both a struggling “focus” school and an excelling “celebration eligible” school.


Wonk time: An insider’s critique of new Minnesota school rating system by Alleen Brown, TC Daily Planet • St. Paul data chief Matt Mohs isn’t sold yet on the new Minnesota system designed to identify schools that are succeeding and failing.  As the head of accountability and Title One programs for St. Paul Public Schools, his concerns revolve around peculiarities in equations, wonky details that only a real insider would catch, but ones that impact whether or not schools are recognized for true successes and true failures.

St. Paul teacher: Too much testing hurts kids who need help most by Alleen Brown, TC Daily Planet • What frustrates her is the time testing takes away from instruction. It’s the tests themselves and their flawed multiple choice questions. It’s the way they make struggling students feel stupid.


One teacher’s story: Testing makes teaching a nightmare by Alleen Brown, TC Daily Planet • “It’s hard for us, because most of us went into teaching, because it’s a calling. It wasn’t just something that we did, it was something that we loved to do. We do it, because it’s something in our heart,” she said. “Everything you loved is gone.”