On the central point, there is bipartisan agreement: Minnesota kids in grades K-12 take too many required tests.
Although state lawmakers have different ideas about solutions — specifically, about which exams should be scrapped and why — their shared interest in streamlining testing offers a foundation for constructive debate and reasonable compromise. The goal should be to retain tests that are useful to educators, well aligned with state academic standards and most effective at measuring what students have learned.
Gov. Mark Dayton has made test reduction a key component of his education platform. His administration recommends slashing the number of state and federally mandated tests by one-third. That would eliminate seven of 21 exams that students take between third and 12th grades. Dayton’s plan would do away with the math Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) in third and fourth grade, reading MCAs in sixth and seventh grade, and the Explore, Plan and Compass college readiness tests in high school.
However, a working group convened by the state education commissioner recommended a more modest change. The group agrees that college readiness tests should be eliminated, but it recommends keeping reading and math MCAs in grades three through eight. Some members of the group say the Dayton plan goes too far. They argue that annual testing is essential for both measuring student growth as well as the performance of schools and teachers. Because some of the tests are federally mandated, they say dropping them would require a change in federal law or a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education.
Yet securing federal approval shouldn’t be a major hurdle. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan supports cutting back on testing. And Dayton administration officials say that students will be tested enough so that year-to-year progress can still be measured.
“Test creep’’ has occurred over the past two decades as educational trends and policies have changed. The federal No Child Left Behind law of the early 2000s called for more testing, as did state higher standards and accountability movements. It’s no wonder that many parents and students pushed back. Legislators and the governor heard those complaints and are rightly responding.
Tests do play an important role in determining if students are learning. Though they differ on specifics, the plans offered by Dayton and the working group would reduce the testing burden and move K-12 assessments in the right direction.