Unless the Commissioner of Education and the state legislature act, a large percentage of Minnesota’s 11th graders will not be able to graduate next year, because they did not score high enough on a new math test. Introduced as part of the state’s high-stakes testing regimen, the GRAD test is given to all 11th graders. This is the first year students are required to pass the test in order to graduate.
“It’s not fair to let these high schoolers get caught in the cross-hairs” of the test, said Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville). She said the problem is that not all current 9th, 10th, and 11th graders have received the needed support and more rigorous preparation. The high-stakes testing regimen was put in place in lower grades after they had reached high school, and this year’s 11th graders will have limited time for remedial courses.
Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St Paul) laid the blame at the feet of the state senate. “2007 was a really big year in making GRAD the high-stakes test,” Mariani said in an interview last week. “I think the House didn’t understand the full impact of that until last year. Rep. Linda Slocum (DFL – Bloomington) had a bill last year that would have dealt with this; in fact, the House passed it, but the Senate left it alone, and the Department of Education didn’t want to deal with it.”
According to Charlie Kyte, Executive Director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, a fix is in the offing. After a series of negotiations between legislative leaders, representatives from the state Department of Education, representatives from the state teachers’ union, MASA, and the Minnesota Association of School Boards, Kyte said, the group seems to be moving to a consensus on a short-term solution, to be implemented “hopefully by March 1st.”
The most likely solution, Kyte said, would require districts to provide intensive remediation for students who don’t make the grade. After a student from the high school classes of 2010, 2011, or 2012 has tried taking the math test three times, but is still failing, Kyte said, districts would have the option to graduate the student if their performance in other academic areas was acceptable.
“High-stakes tests,” Kyte said, “also have a negative consequence. Kids say “to hell with this, I can’t possibly pass this one big test I haven’t been prepared for. I’m dropping out.”
James Sanna (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer and an intern covering education issues for the Daily Planet.