Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson unleashed a defense of school testing Monday, two days after the Star Tribune highlighted a burgeoning opt-out movement that is exempting students from standardized tests at South High School and some other Minneapolis schools.

Johnson said: “Test scores do not necessarily equate to learning but they do play a critical part of the learning process.  Many MPS [Minneapolis Public Schools] teachers tell us that the benefits of certain tests outweigh the costs by allowing them to make informed decisions about students’ academic needs and involving parents in these decisions.”

Johnson wasn’t specific on whether she was defending standardized tests such as the state-required Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment, or tests the district prescribes at the each of its focused instruction curriculum, or less formal tests improvised by teachers to guide them on whether students are mastering new material.

Her remarks appeared designed to stem the expansion of this year’s jump in parents opting their children out of tests.  South accounts for at least 250 of the just over 400 students in the district who have been opted out this school year.  That means that one school alone tops in 2014 the number of MCA opt-outs recorded for the entire state for the 2013 MCAs.

“MPS has had very few parents opt their students out of taking assessments, and I believe that is a good thing,” Johnson wrote. However, the district has a form for parents who wish to exercise that option.  

South Teachers who informed parents of their students of their right to opt of the twice-annual  Measures of Academic Progress  say they don’t find the results particularly useful, compared to their own assessments of student learning. They argue that standardized testing imposes artificial constrains of time and choices that don’t allow students to demonstrate how well they have mastered new material.

As the article noted, the district and the union representing teachers are examining district testing regimens.  Johnson said that task will make recommendations by the end of June. But unlike the St. Paul district, which is aiming to reduce testing 25 percent over three years, Minneapolis has set no numeric target. 

“We want to make sure that we are not overly assessing students and that we are gathering meaningful and useful data that will improve student results” Johnson wrote in an open letter.