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Minnesota Legislataors Grapple with Academic Testing

Test anxiety among lawmakers helped fuel two movements in the Minnesota Senate on Tuesday one to pull the state out of the federal No Child Left Behind Act and the other to scrap Minnesota's current testing system.

Whether such efforts stand a chance remains to be seen as the legislative session progresses. But Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke warned senators that either measure could jeopardize more than $100 million in annual federal funding.

The Senate Education Committee passed two bills regarding No Child Left Behind, which calls for yearly testing of students in math and reading from grades three through eight. One bill would pull the state out of the federal program. The other asks Congress to grant Minnesota a waiver from it. Neither bill, however, has had a hearing in the House.

The votes came a week after the state Education Department announced it made an error while calculating proficiency levels in last year's Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments taken by elementary students. The error caused passage rates to be inflated by as much as 6 percentage points.

Yecke spent part of her day Tuesday explaining the error and efforts to prevent its recurrence to lawmakers and school district testing officials. Despite those reassurances, the error appears to be encouraging lawmaker angst about No Child Left Behind and the increasing amount of testing it is producing.

Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, said he's unhappy that the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment the test the state uses to comply with federal regulations does not give schools and parents useful information about children's academic abilities. The test is designed to measure schools' teaching of state standards and not to identify problem learning areas for individual students. To do that, school districts often use national tests, such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

But why can't one test perform both functions of measuring schools and assessing students, asked Kelley, the chairman of the Education Committee.

To do that, Kelley and other senators are proposing to scrap the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment and replace it with a national test produced by the Oregon-based Northwest Evaluation Association. Already more than a third of the state's school districts representing nearly half of the state's students use the group's test. The bill is expected to come to a committee vote later in the session.

"We realize it is very difficult to change testing horses midstream,'' said Charles Kyte, the executive director of the state superintendents association. "But we think it's worth taking a look.''


Bills are online at www.leg.state.mn.us . The bill asking Congress to let Minnesota out of No Child Left Behind requirements is SF1853. The bill removing Minnesota from the federal act's requirements is SF1921. The bill that would scrap the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment is SF2886.

— John Welsh
Pioneer Press


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