March 12, 2001

              Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments
                MCA's: THE BIG LIE

Right now thousands of 3rd and 5th graders all over Minnesota are
taking their Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, the hammer the State
uses to hold the 347 Independent School Districts accountable to the
Profile of Learning at the K-8 level.

The Maple River Education Coalition would like to correct the blatantly
false statements that are being made by the Department of Children,
Families and Learning (DCFL), newspapers and other media,
administrators and even some school board members.  Namely, that
"ALL STUDENTS MUST take these tests as required by Minnesota Statute
120B.30"  (http://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/stats/120B/30.html).
(Emphasis mine.)

This is absolutely false!  The statute requires the Commissioner of
the DCFL to align tests to the Profile of Learning and to administer
them annually to students in grades 3, 5 and 8.  (The 8th grade Basic
Skills Tests meet the 8th grade requirement.)  The statute says the
Commissioner must provide the tests, the districts must give the tests,
but THE STATUTE DOES NOT REQUIRE STUDENTS TO TAKE THE TESTS in grades 3 and 5.

The Associated Press and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, quoting the
Department of Children, Families and Learning, also mask the truth by
saying that the tests are required but there are no consequences for
not taking it.

The test is NOT REQUIRED.  That is why there are no consequences.  

I and several other parents across the state have personally spoken to
the DCFL.  When asked if the test is required, DCFL staff are
preprogrammed to say, "Yes."  When pressed on the issue and their backs
are against the wall, they will tell you that the only requirement is
that the district GIVE them.

The reason this is such a sensational issue is that these tests are
meaningless to children and to their parents.  They are used as a
"benchmark" to see if the Profile of Learning is being sufficiently
taught in the "preparatory" levels (K-8).  They measure the school
district, not the student, as they are sold to the public.  While the
student does receive a score on these tests, the score is not used for
remediation, because the tests are top-secret and the score reflects
an overall grade on the subject, not specific problem areas that can
be identified by looking at the test. 

These tests are not used to pass or fail children who are doing poorly
in reading, math or writing.  They are used to "assess" the school and
the teacher on the State-mandated philosophies in education.  I find it
rather absurd that parents would, if they knew, place their children in
a testing room for five school days with tests only the student will
ever see, that will never give the parent any true idea of the child's
prowess in that area or demand any results on behalf of the child.  In
fact, under the entire Profile of Learning, what the state calls its
"high standards," students NEVER have to pass a test.

If you are a school board member, try to take a look at an MCA.  If you
are a parent, see how far you get when you want to see your child's MCAs. 
To the best of my knowledge, and I study education in Minnesota every
day, no parent has ever seen one of these assessments that approximately
120,000 students take each year.

These tests are part of the two-part assessment system for the Profile
of Learning that is referred to in statute 120B.30.  In other state
documents the true colors of these assessments are more easily identified:

"The states, aware and proud of their role as 'laboratories' for the
country, are always experimenting.  The assessments being constructed to
measure the defined goals and objectives will be new and will incorporate
innovative and 'unproven' measurement techniques (performance packages)."
("The Design of an Assessment System Related to the Minnesota Profile of
Learning," January 27, 1998, American Institute for Research,
commissioned by the MN Department of Children, Families and Learning.)

Are parents being given accurate information today?  Are their questions
to the administration and school board welcomed?  Is there any reason for
students to take the MCA's?  The answers are no, no and no.

These tests are not an accurate measurement of how your child is doing
in math, reading or writing.  Take their score, cut it in half and
consider that score more accurate according to what you and I regard as
academic excellence.  These same students who look so good on these tests
in 3rd and 5th grade are the same students that are failing the 8th grade
test in math that is required to graduate and, by the State's own
admission, is a 6th grade level test.

To make matters worse, the MCA's are being expanded to a 10th grade
reading test and a 11th grade math test.  My school district is a pilot
site for both.  Our 10th and 11th graders would have taken them last year,
but the state was involved with their testing snafus, as we all remember,
so they were postponed to this year.  I wonder how many of the parents
that had children in the 11th grade knew ahead of time about the morning-
long MCA in math that was given to the entire class about two weeks ago? 
Probably very few.  I would suspect that they still do not know.

I knew because my daughter casually mentioned the night before that she
had to take a state math test.  Knowing about the MCA's and their plans
for future tests in other grades, it was easy for me to extrapolate what
kind of a test this was and that it would in no way benefit my daughter. 

I also knew that our principal had made a comment about a year ago that
said something to the effect, "We are either going to have to bribe the
students to take the 10th and 11th grade MCA's or we are going to have
to keep it a secret and surprise them."  (Paraphrased)
           
I guess they chose the latter.  Even the school board did not know they
were being given.

I am very sorry that this letter did not get to the parents in this
state before their children started testing this week.  The parents of
about 150 Minnesota students, without even knowing all the facts that I
just mentioned, chose to not allow their 3rd and 5th grade children to
take the MCA's or offered to have them take a nationally norm-referenced
test such as an Iowa Test of Basic Skills or a California Achievement
Test instead.

Our children have been practice testing for weeks to take these tests. 
Teachers have to give up their valuable class time. Ask yourself this
question.  If these tests are an accurate measurement of what my child
has learned up to this time, why do they have to practice test in
reading and math for two weeks before they can take it?

Renee T. Doyle,
President
Maple River Education Coalition