(via Minnesota 2020) Changes in school spending priorities over the last ten school years.

No recess and no band: Test score focus hurts kids, says new report

Did you take band, theater, phy-ed, or business class when you were in school? Then you may have been able to do something most kids can’t do or don’t have time to do these days because of changes in Minnesota school budgets — take an “enrichment” course.A new study of Minnesota school district spending over the last ten years found that schools are spending their dollars to boost test scores on subjects students are tested on, but it comes at the expense of a broader education.“We have students taking what we call double scoops of math and reading to try and get their test scores up”, said LeMoyne Corgard, President of Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota. “But of course that limits the other options they have. It limits them access to the course work that they would like that really motivate them, inspire them and keep them engaged in our schools.”It’s that engagement and motivation for learning that can make or break kids’ success once they finish school. Minnesota 2020, which did the study, calls that caring for the “whole child”, not just the simple test score. Continue Reading

Film provides students’ views on standardized testing

The on-going national debate on standardized testing features a lengthy list of pros and cons. Proponents often cite the tests as “reliable and objective measures,” “inclusive and non-discriminatory,” and claim most parents approve. Not everyone agrees.

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Opting out of tests and into learning that matters

This week at school, my nine-year old son will be working on a project that he is passionate about: an in-depth look at the Greek god Poseidon. He will be researching Poseidon, trying to figure out how to accurately and artistically draw a trident, and otherwise putting the finishing touches on his project, which will then be shared with his classmates next week. Continue Reading

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What color is your parachute? “Yellow” students targeted for extra help in Minneapolis Spring Break Academy

As part of its recently announced short-term intervention strategies, the district will offer a special Spring Break Academy. Host schools for these academies will be selected from among the thirteen sites that have been chosen as “lab schools” for the short-term intervention plan.Spring Break Academy is not for everyone. Students who are allowed / invited / urged to attend are those who are color-coded as “yellow” according to their test scores. Students are color-coded as red (failing), yellow (“on the bubble” or close to proficiency), green (proficient), or blue (exceeding expectations), according to a teacher familiar with the system.A district memo describing the Spring Break Academy confirms this account, with a question and answer in the FAQ section:”Can we invite hard-working red zone students who would really benefit or is this a district-generated list? (Can the list be added to?)The focus will start on the students scoring in the yellow and then move into the students scoring in the red. Continue Reading

Educators to gather this week for ‘excellence and equity’

Best-selling author Paul Tough will argue that the best predicators of student success are qualities of character rather than scores on standardized tests during his keynote speech at the Education Minnesota Professional Conference, which runs Thursday and Friday at the RiverCentre in downtown St. Paul.In Tough’s latest book, “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character,” he makes the case that characteristics that help children overcome adversity were better indicators of future prosperity than the test scores commonly used to measure the quality of schools.Tough is scheduled to speak at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium. Other notables scheduled to attend the conference include Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius and Dr. Anton Treuer, executive director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University and an expert in Native American education.The theme for the 2013 Professional Conference is “Excellence and Equity,” and attendees will find that focus woven throughout the lineup of more than 90 workshops and speakers. Presentation topics include student mental health issues, technology, reading instruction and teacher evaluations. Hundreds of educational exhibits will also be on display throughout the day Thursday.The Education Minnesota Professional Conference is free and open to the public. Continue Reading

Michelle Ockman, Rob Panning-Miller, Melinda Bennett

Opting out of MAP tests at Minneapolis South High

In early September, a group of teachers at South High School in Minneapolis let parents know that they have the right to opt their children out of the upcoming MAP (Measuring Academic Progress) test. The MAP is one of the standardized tests that most children in Minnesota are given in grades 1-9, and some view it as a way to measure students’ academic growth throughout the year.FULL DISCLOSURE: The author is a Minneapolis Public School parent, who has opted out of testing for her children.Melinda Bennett, Michelle Ockman, Stephanie Woldum and Rob Panning-Miller work as a team with the 135 ninth graders enrolled in South’s Open program, which they say is a diverse group of kids from many backgrounds. While the MAP has been given to ninth graders at South for several years now, this year the testing has changed. The district has decided to give the test in the fall and spring rather than once a year. Along with a growing concern about standardized testing in general, this led the South teachers to tell families about their right to refuse the tests.Emailed note to parents:The MAP test:As you know, standardized tests have become a defining feature of our schools. Continue Reading

Students at Maxfield Elementary school (Photo by Alleen Brown)

Wonk time: An insider’s critique of new Minnesota school rating system

St. Paul accountability 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 academics and Title I 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.This article is part of a series, Testing: Who wins, who loses with high stakes, standardized testing in Minnesota schoolsHis biggest and wonkiest concern is that the correlation between school demographics and Minnesota’s new Multiple Measurement Ranking (MMR) system is a little too predictable. He worries that the new school accountability system just might be better at identifying challenging demographics than it is at recognizing high-functioning schools.But he’s not sure yet. This is the first year that Minnesota schools are functioning under the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver. Continue Reading

David Junwirth is a student at Bridge View (photo courtesy of Rachel Peulen)

When tests tell teachers nothing: Special needs not met by standardized tests

Every spring at St. Paul’s Bridge View school for students with significant special needs, teacher Rachel Peulen spends two to three weeks administering a test that she knows will tell her next to nothing about her students.On most days, Peulen’s middle schoolers each work on activities designed to meet their particular needs. One student works on remembering classmates’ names. Another practices recognizing flashcards inscribed with simple words. Her most advanced students do simple arithmetic.This article is part of a series, Testing: Who wins, who loses with high stakes, standardized testing in Minnesota schoolsBut over three weeks, Peulen takes each student out of the classroom for up to an hour-and-a-half, so she can ask them to compare fractions, find the slope of a line and identify the main idea of a story. Continue Reading

Maxfield Elementary school class (Photos by Alleen Brown)

At St. Paul’s Maxfield Elementary, low ranking masks real transformation

Two conflicting stories are being told about Maxfield Elementary school in St. Paul.Minnesota’s new system for determining which schools are struggling and which are succeeding paints a picture of a school in trouble. Maxfield has been labeled a “priority school,” the lowest ranking in Minnesota’s Multiple Measurement Ranking (MMR). The MMR score, which is based on students’ test proficiency, growth, and achievement gap size, dropped from 30 percent in 2011 to 3 percent in 2012.This article is part of a series, Testing: Who wins, who loses with high stakes, standardized testing in Minnesota schoolsBut administrators see something different. “That school is absolutely transformed, and anyone who interacts with that school will tell you that,” said St. Continue Reading