Jumping Through Hoops for the Feds
What if a high school administered a state standardized test and few students showed up?
That's a problem districts across Minnesota are facing as they look for ways to meet one of the requirements of the new federal law dubbed "No Child Left Behind."
President Bush's education legislation, which demands greater accountability from public schools and more standardized tests, also requires 95 percent student participation in the testing. If a school or entire district fails to meet that lofty goal two years in a row, it will land on a state improvement list.
Consequences include reduced funding, which is not a prospect relished by already-cash-strapped Minnesota schools.
Low participation in the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments — which are used to evaluate schools but not to determine students' grades or whether they will graduate — is particularly troubling for many metro-area districts. Use of the MCAs to meet the federal law's testing requirements is one of the options state officials are considering.
State officials have until Jan. 31 to tell the U.S. Education Department what the state accountability plan will look like.
Reaching the 95 percent participation goal will be made difficult by another facet of the requirement: Not only do individual schools and districts have to meet the attendance goal, but so do certain subgroups of students within those schools. Those groups are: American Indian, Asian, black, Hispanic, white, special education students, free/reduced lunch recipients and pupils classified as English language learners.
If there are only 20 Hispanic students in a school's junior class and two are absent, that 95 percent mark is missed.
In some Anoka-Hennepin School District high schools, more than a third of students slept in on MCA test day this spring. School officials had started classes later in the day for non-testing freshmen and seniors to accommodate sophomores and juniors completing the MCAs.
The plan backfired when sophomores and juniors also came to school late — and the state's third-largest district learned its lesson.
Anoka-Hennepin is now taking several steps to address poor test attendance.
"I think it's going to be very close. But it would not surprise me if a school did not make it," said Mike Lindstrom, the district's assessment facilitator. He plans to oversee a blitz of newsletters and mailings to parents emphasizing the significance of the MCAs.
"We need to somehow get every staff member to buy into the importance of testing. This can't be seen as a 'math department' problem. Kids pick up on that approach," Lindstrom said.
Individual schools will form their own committees to persuade students not to use test day as a complimentary day off from school.
In general, high school students aren't as keen to take tests as their younger counterparts. Between 60 percent and 75 percent of Anoka-Hennepin's 10th- and 11th-graders took the MCAs earlier this year. For third- and fifth-graders, the percentage climbed above 90.
Districts have their hands tied when enforcing attendance at the MCAs; the most officials can do is pass out detention slips to students who skip school on test day. Earlier this year, about half the junior class at Southwest High School in Minneapolis boycotted the MCA math test.
Anoka High School junior Pang Vang said the MCA tests might draw more students if the results were reported to colleges.
"Why do people care about attendance if they only care about test results? Colleges should see that we participate," Pang Vang said.
Pang Vang and Rosemary Yang say they don't know what their MCA scores as 10th-graders were.
"It should be on our transcripts. Somehow the MCAs should affect us," said junior Rosemary Yang.
The Department of Children, Families and Learning agrees.
"If it's a grade 11 math test and it doesn't yield information that's relevant, it's reasonable for students to reject it. The test should deliver useful and relevant information. We're looking at options," said Reg Allen, the state director of assessment.
But Allen expects any changes to move at a turtle's pace.
PERCENTAGE OF ELIGIBLE STUDENTS WHO TOOK THE MINNESOTA COMPREHENSIVE ASSESSMENTS TEST LAST YEAR*
Anoka-Hennepin: 76 percent in 10th-grade reading and 59percentin 11th-grade math
Minneapolis: 85 and 74
Rosemount-Eagan-Apple Valley: 94 and 90
St. Paul: 93 and 82
South St. Paul: 91 and 91
South Washington: 91 and 84
NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND LAW
• By the 2005-06 school year, states must implement annual testing of all public school students in math and reading for grades three through eight. Science tests and a high school test will also be required.
• Test scores must be reported by school district and school building. But they also must be broken down by subgroups including race, ethnicity, income, special education status and those who are English language learners.
• States must establish a minimum test score, and by 2013 every student who takes the test must reach that score. Each year, schools will be expected to show progress for their school and for each subgroup represented in their school toward meeting that 100 percent goal. If a school has just one subgroup — for example, the scores of its English language learners — not meeting its improvement goal for two consecutive years, the school is placed on a "needs improvement" list.
Natalie Y. Moore
Law puts pressure on schools to boost test participation
Dec. 21, 2002
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES