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 testing

Discussion 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 progress

Under 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. Also, beginning this year, all high school students were required to take the ACT, a college entrance exam.

HF1591 aims to eliminate three of those “career- and college-ready” exams – called EXPLORE, COMPASS and PLAN. It would also eliminate standardized math tests for third- and fourth-graders and standardized reading tests for sixth- and seventh-graders.

Cassellius told committee members the remaining required 14 tests align with Dayton’s call for less redundancy in assessments.

How many and which tests to cut

Dayton’s recommendations track slightly different from the recommendations released last month by a Test Reduction Advisory Group he appointed. That group recommended elimination of the high school science standardized, which Cassellius said she wants to see remain among the myriad Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) exams students take during their K-12 career.

Jenna Ezis King of Roseville signs her testimony with concerns about the placement of deaf children that is in HF1591, the omnibus education policy bill, during the House Education Innovation Policy Committee March 12. Photo by Paul Battaglia

“I’m slightly worried about science already not being taught enough, so I think that would send the wrong message about science,” Cassellius said. She added that the exam matches with the growing demand for more students to pursue careers in science- and technology-related fields.

Proposals to reduce the number of standardized tests for students have received general bipartisan support. But there is little agreement on how many or what exams to eliminate.

On Tuesday, the education policy committee passed, on a divided voice vote, a standardized test reductionbill sponsored by Rep. Peggy Bennett (R-Albert Lea), which includes a provision that would eliminate the requirement that high school students take the ACT. 

Students are now required 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.

Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) said he believes proposals to reduce the number of standardized tests are an example of the Department of Education “just making due” with a tough situation.

“What we ought be having a conservation about is what is the best instrument we can consistently provide for our students so that they are empowered relative to their college and career readiness aspirations,” said Mariani.

Other provisions included in the bill would:

  • reform the elective credit system that would allow students who take an agriculture science or career and technical education class to fulfill an elective science, under certain circumstances;
  • require a school board to provide transportation for a child with a disability not yet enrolled in kindergarten in order to provide the child special instruction and services;
  • direct districts to use the world language standards developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages when offering world language electives;
  • make eligible a parent under age 21 who is pursuing a college degree eligible for an early learning scholarship if the parent has a child age 0 to 5 and meets income eligibility guidelines;
  • allow the commissioner to prioritize applications for early learning scholarships based on whether a child is in foster care, experiencing homelessness, is on a waiting list for publicly funded early education or child care services, or has a parent under age 21 pursuing a high school diploma, a GED, or a college degree; and
  • require the governing board of a regional public library system to employ a full-time chief administrative officer.