VOICES | Education standards neither met nor paid


State policymakers are talking out of both sides of their mouths. While they expect high school graduates to meet certain standards, it is exactly these standards that leaders refuse to pay for.

It goes like this: In 2003, Gov. Tim Pawlenty convened a blue ribbon education task force to determine the cost of educating students using 2003 standards. The resulting report, “Inve$ting In Our Future,” showed that the state needs to invest more than $1 billion each year to meet these standards.

The state, facing budget problems that year, dropped the report. It was picked up by a group of educators who formed P.S. Minnesota, which developed a formula to fully fund schools to meet these state standards. The P.S. Minnesota formula is at the heart of HF 2, a bill currently under consideration in the legislature that will revamp the way schools are funded.

Meanwhile, this spring, 11th-grade students will take a math test that will determine if they can graduate from high school. If they don’t pass the test or any retakes, they won’t get a diploma.

This is part of the state-mandated Graduation-Required Assessment for Diploma tests in reading, writing and math. The GRAD tests are administered as part of the MCA-II test in the spring and are designed to see if students are savvy enough in those subjects for graduation.

To what standards are the GRAD tests aligned? The ones used by the Minnesota Department of Education in 2003 – the same standards the state refuses to fund.

The state hasn’t fully funded education for years. Since 2003, state aid to Minnesota school districts has dropped 14 percent, forcing districts to ask local voters to raise their property taxes to make up the difference – a funding strategy that has worked well in some districts and has been disastrous in others.

That the state has created expectations with the GRAD tests yet won’t do what’s necessary to allow students to meet those expectations doesn’t puzzle some education experts.

“They ask for 100 percent achievement without 100 percent funding,” said Mary Cecconi, president of Parents United for Public Schools, an education advocacy group. “If they only provide 60 percent of education funding, does that mean they expect only 60 percent of students to graduate?”

The state decided in 2003 that it couldn’t afford to educate our students to the standards the state itself had set. Did it find more money so schools would be fully funded? No. Did it focus its efforts on creating a system that works within the funding model it has? No. Did it lower state education standards to levels where districts could afford to meet them? No.

Instead, it created a high-stakes series of tests based on those same 2003 standards. Students can either pass them and get a diploma, or fail them and … do what?

The brakes should be put on the GRAD test until lawmakers have thought through the repercussions. Minnesota’s policymakers should stop with the gamesmanship and politics and fully invest in students. And instead of looking back to 2003 for guidance, we should look to where we want to be in the future – say, 2020 – and aim for that star.