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What state tests are required?

January 20, 2003

The following letter asks a question about the annual state assessments in reading and math that are scheduled in January and February. It says:

"I have a question that really needs clarification! My eighth graders have been sent home with a note about the assessment tests that need to be taken in February. The inference is that these tests have to be taken in order for the student to graduate from 8th grade, and high school. My understanding is that the school tries to give this impression, but that they do not need to take the test to graduate. i.e. it is not mandatory. So what's the real scoop?????? Do they take it or not? I do not want to support the Profile of Learning in any way! --
Confused Parent

Dear Confused Parent,

Two types of assessments are administered to public school students as part of Minnesota's graduation standards. They are the Basic Skills Tests (a requirement for high school graduation) and the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (NOT a requirement for graduation or advancement to a higher grade).

[To view the state testing schedule, go to: http://www.edwatch.org/pdfs/mca.pdf]

Basic Skills Tests (BSTs)

In January and February, public schools will administer the Basic Skills Tests. State law requires that all public school students attain a passing score on the BST's AS A REQUIREMENT for graduation from high school in Minnesota.

BST's measure functional literacy in reading, math and writing. They are considered a "safety net." They are the only state requirement for students to demonstrate knowledge-based content before high school graduation.

Students who fail the Basic Skills Tests are given many more opportunities to pass again, and they will be given opportunities for remediation. However, a failing score on a BST will not keep a student from advancing to the next grade level.

The BSTs in reading and math are first administered in 8th grade. The content is considered 6th grade level material. The writing BST is administered in 10th grade.

The 10th grade writing BST is scheduled for next Monday, January 28th. The 8th grade BST in reading is February 4th, and the 8th grade BST in math is February 6th.

We have no objections to the BST reading and math tests, except that we believe they should be given in 6th grade and require a passing score for advancing to high school. It is peculiar at best that students who are not "functionally literate" are attending classes sometimes throughout their entire high school years.

We have strong objections to the 10th grade writing test because it is also used to assess students emotionally and personally. The content doubles as a measure of the mental and emotional health of the student, and scorers are directed to "flag" written content that raises questions. We consider this an invasion of privacy and an outrageous misuse of testing.

A passing score on the 10th grade writing test, however, IS CURRENTLY A HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION REQUIREMENT.

Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments

The assessments that measure conformity to the Profile of Learning are called Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs). They are administered in 3rd and 5th grades for math and reading. The 10th grade writing BST also doubles as a 10th grade writing MCA. (See "MCAs: Profile Testing Trouble,")

The MCAs are administered in April. State law requires that schools must administer the test to all students. However STUDENTS ARE NOT REQUIRED TO TAKE THE MCAs. They are not a requirement for high school graduation or advancement to another grade.

Last year many students stayed home from the MCA tests as a protest against the new federal education system and the political agenda that it is forcing in our schools. At this time, the MCAs are not a requirement for graduation or advancement to another grade.

MCAs assess progress toward the teaching of the content of the Profile of Learning. Profile content, in turn, is based on the National Standards, such as the National Standards in Civics and Government, the U.S. History Standards, the Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, the math standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and so on. ("Content Framework for Minnesota's People and Cultures Standards," Chapter 1) The MCAs hold schools "accountable" to the Profile.

[For a look at what organizations have been directed to develop the National Standards, see www.edwatch.org/updates/011503]

The National Standards are "integrated," that is, 'woven into" all subject areas, such as math and reading. This is one of the reasons that the development of the MCAs is such a lengthy, expensive and complicated process. The MCAs are "assessing" (not simply testing) a variety of things at the same time.

The standards often sound superficially wonderful. They were developed over the course of the 1990's with money and direction from the federal government. Contrary to how they appear, on the other hand, the National Standards are remarkably biased against our most basic principles of freedom and self- government. [For further reading on the federal curriculum, see "Fed Ed, the New Federal Curriculum and How It's Enforced." http://www.edwatch.org/fed_ed.html]

One example of the radical nature of the National Standards is the controversy surrounding the development of the National History Stnadards. $2.2 million of taxpayer money was spent to write them. They were so offensive that the U.S. Senate rejected them in 1995 on a vote of 99 to 1. Those same history standards, however, are being used today for the framework for our (and other states') standards.

The primary purpose of the MCAs is to enforce the teaching of the Profile of Learning content standards. The math tests assess a fuzzy math, rather than traditional math. Calculators are freely used. The reading tests assess reading skills, but they also assess content regarding student attitudes toward diversity, environmentalism, and other personal values. Schools and teachers are judged, rewarded and sanctioned on the basis of the results of the MCAs. The MCAs are never released to the public for scrutiny.

How do we know that the MCAs assess for the federal curriculum?

One way to understand the purpose of the assessments is to review the national test (National Assessment of Educational Progress - NAEP). [See our NAEP review]

The NAEP is now required of all states to "verify" their state assessments. That is, since federal law directs states to design their own standards and assessments, the NAEP must determine that the states are actually assessing the content they expect -- the National Standards (curriculum).

Like the MCAs, the NAEP test is not released to the public for scrutiny. It operates in secrecy. In the year 2001, MREdCo made excerpts from a NAEP test available on our website for the public to see for themselves. Roughly 2/3 of the test is non-academic, asking personal questions about the student, his family and his school. The remainder of the test was filled with questions that reflected a controversial set of values.

Showing the NAEP to anyone or using questions from the NAEP for any reason was made a felony in 2002 under federal law (No Child Left Behind). For that reason, excerpts from the NAEP are no longer available on our website. The NAEP was cast back into secrecy.

It is impossible for the educational system to be genuinely accountable to the public unless the annual tests are available for the public to review and scrutinize every year. Only then will we know whether they are measuring knowledge-based academics.

Tests that measure only academic knowledge, tests that are not filled with layers of values and attitude measurements,