In 2013, the state Legislature passed a new law nearly doubling the number of standardized tests students were required to take. A year later, during his State of the State Address, Gov. Mark Dayton admitted that increase had been a mistake, stating, “Last year, I’m very sorry to say, our state went backward. More tests were mandated in the upper grade levels.”
That’s why, in this year’s legislative session, House Republicans took the lead on a bipartisan effort to reduce testing and eliminate duplicative exams in reading and math that rob our children of valuable classroom learning time.
Both the House and Senate held hearings on testing reduction, reviewing the recommendations of the governor’s working group on testing reduction. After thorough discussion and debate, legislators placed changes into our final education legislation, including a majority of the task force’s suggestions.
Several tests — including the eighth- and 10th-grade career and college readiness assessments in reading, writing and math, as well as a college entrance exam diagnostic test — were eliminated. This reduces the number of student tests, specifically those not aligned to our state academic standards, and cuts unnecessary payments to national testing companies, saving our state money. Students will still take the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) from grades three through 11 in important subject areas like reading, math, science and writing.
Furthermore, contradicting what the Star Tribune claimed in its July 10 editorial, “Testing cuts came after too little debate,” no new testing was mandated for students this year. A required writing test aligned to state academic standards was enacted in 2013, but has not yet been implemented. Our reduction in testing leaves that requirement in place, ensuring that our high school students are assessed at least once in reading, writing and math aligned to our state standards.
Next, state leaders wanted to ensure that every child, regardless of income or ZIP code, could have the opportunity to achieve the dream of higher education. That’s why the state is covering the $54 cost of the ACT college entrance exam for any high school junior or senior who asks to take it. The Legislature funded the program with $6 million over the next two years, estimating that 85 percent of students would take the ACT. In 2014, 76 percent of Minnesota students took it. This eliminates the financial barrier for those who wish to take the ACT, and by not making the it mandatory, students who have already taken the ACT are spared from being forced to take it twice.
What’s more, after years of parent and teacher complaints over escalating testing in our classrooms, we took action to limit the hours students must spend taking tests. Many teacher groups expressed frustration about additional assessments school districts require above and beyond the MCAs. Limiting those extra testing hours is reasonable. However, local control in this area is maintained by allowing additional testing time if the school board and educators agree.
With these common-sense, bipartisan reforms, the overall state spending on testing is reduced by approximately $9.5 million — not by $20 million as the Star Tribune Editorial Board suggests. Not included in the Editorial Board’s calculation is $6 million provided to schools for ACT reimbursements or the fact that $4.5 million given to the Department of Education in 2013 to implement additional testing requirements, now repealed, was a one-time appropriation.
Providing a world-class education to every Minnesota student was a top priority in this session. We invested an additional $525 million in education, putting more money in every classroom statewide. We expanded early-learning initiatives, including scholarships and school-readiness aid to help close the achievement gap and to provide low- and middle-income families with access to quality prekindergarten programs. We also worked to ensure that the most effective teachers are in our classrooms by streamlining the process for qualified out-of-state educators to receive a Minnesota teaching license and by addressing the needs of school districts facing teacher shortages.
By reducing the burdensome number of tests mandated by the state on our schools, we ensure that Minnesota kids can spend more time in the classroom learning and preparing for higher education and a successful future.
Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, is a member of the Minnesota House.