Opt out, guilt free! Minnesota Department of Education weighs in


Ready to opt out but worried that your local school will lose money if you do?

Relax. According to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), testing and funding are not directly connected. There is no official link, according to MDE Communications Representative Josh Collins, between whether or not students take the tests, and how much money a school receives. That’s great news.

But, you may also be wondering what role, if any, test prep should be playing at your child’s school.

The MDE’s official position on this is that test prep should not be happening at all. This will come as a shock to those of you who, well, those of you with children in a public school in Minnesota, judging by the stories being shared on the Opt Out Minnesota Facebook page and Twitter feed.

I suspect that, if we put an ear to the wall of most public schools sometime between January and the end of the school year, or at least the spring testing season, we would hear test prep and test-taking practice sessions taking the place of real schoolwork—responsive, engaging, democratic, and joyous teaching and learning. But it shouldn’t be, according to the MDE.

Don’t believe me? I will share the questions I sent to the MDE, and the clear, definitive responses I received in return.

Q. How are testing and funding connected, if at all, in Minnesota’s public schools?

A. There aren’t direct funding implications relating to test scores for schools and districts. The state’s most struggling schools—with test scores being one of several determining factors—receive additional support from the state’s Regional Centers of Excellence to help raise achievement.

Q. Does MN’s waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) include bonuses or grant money that can be awarded to schools based on test scores That is, if a school’s MCA scores go up, does that make the school’s staff eligible for bonuses?

A. No.

Q. Do a certain percentage of students still need to take the MCAs for federal funding purposes?

A. No.

Q. If a significant number of students opt out of the MCAs, is funding impacted in anyway?

A. No.

Q. Are there any funding considerations with other tests, such as the MAP (NWEA) or OLPA?

A. No.

Q. Is it your understanding that very few, if any, schools in MN are actively using test prep and test-taking strategies to get students ready for standardized tests?

A. Minnesota is a local-control state. Districts make local decisions about curriculum and instruction for their schools, including getting students ready for success on standardized tests.

Q. Is it your position that schools should not be using test prep or test-taking advice sessions to try to improve student performance on the MCA tests, or any other standardized test?

A. The department does not support, promote, encourage or endorse any form of test preparation. The best preparation is ensuring that locally-developed curriculum is aligned with state standards. We believe that preparing a student for success in life, career and college requires much more than preparing for and taking tests.

Here’s where I disagree with the MDE. I think the best preparation for students, whether it comes to preparing for a test or for a fulfilling life, is being allowed to grow up, make mistakes, and get inspired to, maybe, make the world a better place, through the support of a strong, stable school community, and an equally strong and stable neighborhood.

Still, the bottom line is that Minnesota remains, for now, a local control state. If your child’s school has been infected with the test prep bug, don’t just blame the feds! Get involved with your local school board and get to know your district’s administrators. They may not even be fully aware that the policies they are implementing contain their particular spin on state and federal mandates. In fact, they may need the voices of parents, students, and teachers to help them be “accountable,” if you will, to those most impacted by their policies.