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Several districts already test high school students — and some middle school students — to determine whether students seem on track to go to college or not.
A few years ago, Mounds View Public Schools began paying for all juniors to take the ACT to spur students to think about life after high school.
“We can’t wait until kids get into high school to get kids thinking about postsecondary options,” said Superintendent Dan Hoverman. “They have to know if they don’t work hard, success is going to be hard to come by.”
But some administrators warn their peers to resist the temptation to make determinations about a child’s college potential too early.
“When we start doing that, then we become a factory with a lot of conveyor belts that move kids around,” said Paul Brashear, assessment coordinator for the North St. Paul-Maplewood district. “Parents don’t want that. Teachers don’t want that.”
The future of testing
In Minnesota, not only is the focus of standardized tests changing, so is the way schools deliver them.
Last school year, about 95 percent of the MCA math exams and 30 percent of the reading exams were given online. State law requires MCA reading exams to be adaptive by the 2015-16 school year, though Minnesota education officials say it may be sooner.
In an adaptive test, questions are asked on a student’s individualized skill level based on prior responses. The more questions a student gets right, the harder the test gets.
As more schools embrace iPads and other devices, it seems likely that they will be able to offer more of their own adaptive tests, Heistad said.
“It’s a big advancement,” he said. “Adaptive tests give teachers the power to create a stronger instructional response. That’s where it’s headed.”
It’s unclear whether state teaching standards for science, reading and math will change in the next few years, but most education advocates say students need more consistent goals to achieve more.
In the past four years, reading, science and math standards have been strengthened, and with each change, MCA scores have been affected. For example, the most recent statewide reading scores fell by 19 percent.
“While we support tougher standards, we agree with Commissioner Cassellius. It’s time to stop moving the goalposts,” said Daniel Sellers, executive director of the education reform group MinnCAN.
State education officials and school administrators say the reading test administered last year was radically different from the one given in 2011-12 and that no one should compare them. But they also don’t dismiss the value of the MCAs.
And that can be confusing to parents who are trying to determine how their child is faring in school.
“I really empathize with parents trying to make sense of it all,” Heistad said.