Minnesota's public schools spend considerable time and resources on state standardized tests, but the payoff varies, a legislative auditor's report has found.

More than half of the principals and teachers who responded to an auditor's office survey said they did not feel prepared to analyze Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA) scores that gauge student improvement, the data used most frequently by the state's Department of Education.

As a result, the audit recommends greater state support to help school districts and charter schools use the scores.

The recommendation was one of eight contained in a 110-page report presented Monday to the Legislative Audit Commission.

The study comes as Minnesota and other states adapt to a new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which is replacing No Child Left Behind. Minnesota's plan to comply with the new law is expected to be submitted to the U.S. Education Department in September. But the state also is awaiting word on how the new law will be interpreted by a new Congress and the Trump administration, state Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, said Monday.

Erickson, who chairs the House Education Innovation Policy Committee, said the panel will "drill down" on Monday's report at a meeting on March 16. A retired teacher, she spoke of the complexities of the current testing environment and said educators can find it difficult to keep up with changes to academic standards — and to the tests associated with them.

Kevin McHenry, an assistant commissioner with the state education department, said the report was "thorough and fair."

The department plans to increase its outreach to districts and charter schools to improve their response to the data in the areas of instruction and intervention. It also plans, McHenry said, to collect additional information about testing costs and effects from districts and charter schools — another of the recommendations made by the legislative auditor's office.

School resources now are strained, the report said.

More than half of state schools set aside more than three weeks for MCA testing in 2016, and more than 300 spent five weeks or more, the study showed. Staff often are diverted from other duties. Nearly one in five districts and charter schools opted to hire additional staff to administer the tests, said David Kirchner, who presented Monday's report on behalf of the legislative auditor's office.

Last year, the state spent $19.2 million on standardized tests, with the federal government picking up one-third of the costs.

Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109