Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius explains provisions of HF1591, a bill that contains the department’s policy proposals, during March 12 testimony before the House Education Innovation Policy Committee. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Education Department bill hones in on reducing standardized tests

Gov. Mark Dayton believes students are losing valuable instructional time as the number of standardized test they are required to take continues to increase. He told legislators last week he wants to cut the number of such tests by one-third.That opinion made its appearance in bill form Thursday as the House Education Innovation Policy Committee began dissecting HF1591, sponsored by Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton). The proposed legislation serves as the Department of Education’s policy bill and contains a number of wide-ranging proposed policy reforms brought forward by Department Commissioner Brenda Cassellius.The committee is expected to resume its hearing on the bill Thursday evening with a motion to send it next to the House Education Finance Committee. Its companion, SF1495, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood), awaits action in the Senate Education Committee.Focus on testingDiscussion focused almost solely on the proposed standardized testing reforms.The proposal represents “a reasonable approach to making testing more efficient and effective, so that teachers can better prepare our children for a competitive global marketplace,” Dayton wrote in a March 5 letter to chairs of the House and Senate K-12 education committees.“The disproportionate amount of time and test preparation that has resulted from the federal No Child Left Behind law and additional state requirements has stifled teachers’ creativity and ability to impart information to students,” he noted.Preserving ability to track progressUnder current law, the average student in Minnesota schools will take 21 standardized exams between grades three and 12. Tests subjects include math, reading and science that are administered multiple times at different grade levels, along with “career and college ready” exams students must currently take while in high school. 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

Kenny Principal Bill Gibbs with posters showing Kenny test scores (Photo by Alleen Brown)

Winner or loser? Test scores for Minneapolis’ Kenny elementary school say both at the same time

Kenny elementary school principal, Bill Gibbs, is pleased but puzzled.

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.

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Kaye Peters (Photo by Alleen Brown)

St. Paul teacher: Too much testing hurts kids who need help most

For St. Paul English teacher Kaye Peters, the standardized tests her Central High students take throughout the year are an annoying distraction.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.This article is part of a series, Testing: Who wins, who loses with high stakes, standardized testing in Minnesota schoolsIt’s that teachers are no longer trusted to know their own students; tests do that now.Lost time and retakesIn October, Central students take practice SAT and ACT tests; teachers and students lose half a day of instructional time. With the spring GRAD reading, writing and math tests; they lose another half day. Continue Reading

Students made a collage showing hopes and dreams (photo by Alleen Brown)

One teacher’s story: Testing makes teaching a nightmare

For some teachers, the years since No Child Left Behind passed have been times of great personal and professional loss.One teacher agreed to be interviewed on the condition that the Daily Planet not use her name.* The veteran Twin Cities teacher said she’s doing her best to coast under the radar for the handful of years before she can retire early and escape what she described as a nightmare.This article is part of a series, Testing: Who wins, who loses with high stakes, standardized testing in Minnesota schools“There’s nothing noble about teaching any more,” she said.She described an environment where there’s a new initiative every year. Where teachers are scolded by instructional monitors for straying from the curriculum’s script. Where there’s no time for art, or social studies or personal relationships with students.Her days are filled with little absurdities:A tense meeting with the principal about the low test scores of her non-English speaking refugee students.Harsh words from an administrator who notices her taking time out of a lesson to talk to a student about his frequent fights.A student’s question about whether American Indians are still alive glazed over by a teacher who used to inspire students with her lessons on Minnesota’s Indians, but who no longer has time for anything but the prescribed reading lesson of the day.“You have people coming in a million times a day telling you, ‘You’re doing it wrong. You’re doing it wrong.’ I go to a party and everyone wants to tell me how shitty teachers are.”“My health is affected,” she said. “I don’t have money or a plan; I just know that this is killing me.”“It’s hard for us, because most of us went into teaching, because it’s a calling. Continue Reading

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Minnesota’s tests: are they really worth the trouble?

There are times in a person’s life – like when you give yourself a home perm or when you drive your car with the “check oil” light on – when you look at an expert and ask, “Is the damage really that bad?” Take for example this column printed last week in the Worthington Daily Globe by Tammy Timko, the Worthington school district’s Coordinator of Teaching and Learning, and Val Nickel, a district administrative assistant. They answer questions about the upcoming tests students will take to meet graduation requirements and for the state to meet No Child Left Behind requirements. Timko and Nickel explain the ins and outs of Minnesota assessments. Their answers are clear and professionally given. Continue Reading

New test results provide clarity & confusion

If you are paying attention, you’re confused. That’s my reaction to the release last week of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores involving Minnesota students. Fourth and eight grade reading and math results were published.

Minnesota’s two largest daily papers had different headlines, using the same data. The (Minneapolis-based) Star Tribune proclaimed, “State’s kids really are above average.” Their story began, “When it comes to math and reading, Minnesota students are way above the national average.”

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