High Stakes Testing
Minnesota currently uses two state tests, the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) in reading and math, grades 3-8, and reading grade 10 and math grade 11, to determine AYP. However, this system currently does not work because:
- A different set of students are tested each time. One year's set of students tested can be very different from those tested in other years. For example, there may be a large increase in students who don't speak English or have strong math skills. So if there is an increase or decrease in MCA test scores in a certain grade from one year to the next, it may just be that the students are different (the comparison is between last year's apples and this year's oranges), not that the instruction is more or less effective.
- The test itself is changing. The MCA's have been different each year in terms of math and reading knowledge and skills tested, degree of difficulty, and even test authors. Because of these inconsistencies from year-to-year, it is difficult to learn anything about school performance from comparisons of the MCA test results. (For more information about the impact of these changes, see March 2004 - MN AYP Validity Review: The Testing Program Foundation, Minnesota Department of Education.)
- The tests don't inform instruction. The MCA results are released in the summer when the students have left that class and moved on to another grade level. By the time teachers get the results, they have a whole new class of students with its own set of strengths and challenges!
- Administering the tests is expensive and time-consuming. Look at all the dollars and time we're spending on administering the tests! The MCA tests have questionable instructional value and value in evaluating school performance: How do we know that what we're spending the money on is working? How much are we spending to develop, administer and report the results of the tests? Could we, should we, be spending that money in more effective and efficient ways that have already been proven to increase student achievement? For example, about 350 districts in the State now use the NWEA and/or the NWEA MAP.
- The annual yearly progress calculations keep changing. If the way the Minnesota Department of Education measures achievement changes from one year to the next, then the measure is not meaningful over time.
Parents want accountability.
- We want to know that our children are making academic progress. It's just that the MCA's provide the information too late.
- We want to know that our schools are delivering a high quality return on our tax dollar investment. It just that tests that can't be used to compare proficiency from one year to the next really can't be used to measure return on investment.
However, the Minnesota Department of Education continues to claim that accountability is working.
Reprinted with the permission of Parents United for Public Schools.
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