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Saying NO to the MCA's

UPDATE: April 2007

Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments
The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) are used to determine whether schools and districts have made adequate yearly progress (AYP) requirements. The federal law (No Child Left Behind) requires the MCAs to be aligned with the state academic standards. When the MCAs were first implemented, the Profile of Learning was Minnesota's set of state-required academic standards, so the MCAs were aligned with the Profile of Learning. 
The Profile of Learning was repealed in the 2003 legislative session. (See "Profile of Learning: Rest in Peace," May 22, 2003.) New academic standards were adopted in 2003 and 2004. (See"New Standards: Improvement Over the Profile, But Still Flawed," May 26, 2004 and "Change in the Right Direction," Nov. 16, 2004.) Therefore, new MCAs had to be written to conform with the new academic standards. The new MCA , implemented in 2005, is called MCAII. Reading and mathematics MCAs are given in grades 3-8, 10 and 11. In the spring of 2008 science MCAs will also be given in grades 5 and 8 and once in high school, depending on when students complete their life sciences curriculum.

Basic Skills Test
The Basic Skills Test (BST) is a minimal (6th grade level) reading and math test. The state requires a passing score on the BST for Minnesota high school graduation. It was initially administered in the 8th grade as a separate test, and re-administered to students who failed as many times as was needed for the student to pass. Students who do not take or pass the test are not eligible for graduation from high school.

The MCAIIs incorporated the Basic Skills Test into its assessments in the following grades: the Written Composition in grade 9, Reading in grade 10, and Mathematics in grade 11. Students must obtain a satisfactory score on each of these tests to graduate from a public school in Minnesota.
For that reason, the MCAIIs in grades 9, 10, and 11 have become a state requirement for graduation. Districts may establish their own consequences for students who opt out of the other MCAs.

April 28, 2003

The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) are still taking place, and many of you are still wondering, does my student by law have to take the MCAs?

No, no, a thousand times no. The district is required to administer the test. Parents have a legal right to refuse. Students have a legal right to refuse. The MCAs are not a graduation requirement.

The Profile of Learning is still with us. Thanks to the DFL in the Minnesota Senate, a genuine repeal has not made it to the Governor's desk for his signature. Minnesota is still testing for the federal curriculum, the Profile of Learning.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) tightened the noose on states, however, in its test requirements of the federal curriculum (Profile of Learning). With NCLB in place, schools that do not have 95% of their enrolled students taking the MCAs are automatically identified as failing to make adequate progress.

Why, then, are parents saying no to the MCAs?

Parents are refusing to allow their students to be tested for three reasons:

  • To shield them from non-academic values and attitudes questions of the national standards (diversity evaluation) and the kind of personal information gathering that asks, for example, how much television does your family watch;
  • To protest the Profile of Learning federal mandate that has transformed education from gaining knowledge to use freely as we choose, to indoctrinating values and attitudes; and
  • To protest the federal government making requirements of schools that the U.S. Constitution forbids them to make under the 10th amendment.

    Threats:
    Lots of reports are coming in that the schools are threatening all sorts of consequences if students or parents refuse the test.

    Some districts say that the MCAs will appear on students' transcripts, implying that without them, the student will not graduate. State law, however, makes it clear that the MCAs are not a requirement for graduation. Being on the transcript is without meaning.

    Some districts have threatened that students will not be allowed to resume classes if they don't take the MCAs. Districts have no authority to refuse to teach students who have not taken the MCAs.

    Here is the official description of the MCAs, right from the Department of Children, Families and Learning website. The site makes it abundantly clear that the purpose of the MCAs is to give direction to the Profile of Learning, measure its success in inculcating the values and attitudes of the federal curriculum:

    "What is the purpose of the MCAs?
    These statewide tests chart the progress of schools and districts over time...These tests indicate the effectiveness of existing programs. ["Existing programs" means the Profile of Learning.]

    "What are the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments?
    The Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA) are reading and math tests designed to assist districts evaluate how their curriculum prepares students for the state's content standards in the Profile of Learning." (Emphasis added.)

    "How are these tests different from the Basic Skills Tests?

    "Who must take the MCA tests?
    State law requires that all third and fifth-grade public school students be tested."

    Notice that it does not say that all third and fifth-grade public school students must take the test..

    A look through the School/District manual for administering the MCA's, will make it more clear:

    "The MCAs are accountability tests and every effort should be made to ensure all students are tested." (p. 2)

    "An MCA answer document should be returned for each student enrolled in the district on test day.

    These include:
    -- students who completed the MCAs.
    -- students whose answer documents were coded as "REF"2 indicating parent's request that their child not be administered the MCAs. The Test Administration report should be completed with the name(s) of the parent(s) refusing to have their child tested." (p. 3)

    "There is no state requirement to put MCA scores on a student's record." (p. 38)

    And on Pp. 23-24, those administering the test are instructed about what to do with refusals: "REF Refused to Have Student Tested Fill in the REF bubble for "refused to test" if a parent/guardian made this request. Schools will need to distinguish parental refusal from student refusal. If a student refuses to complete the MCA, then code the answer document as "INV" see "INV" below. Do NOT complete the "REF" bubble that is reserved for parent's refusal ONLY. This is an important distinction for calculating whether or not the ESEA requirement for 95% assessed has been met.

    "Schools may find it advantageous to ascertain if it is a parental refusal versus a student refusal by determining any parental refusal prior to test date. All REF coded answer documents should be detailed on the Test Administration Report with the name of the parent/guardian making the request. Return all REF answer documents with all other answer documents." (p. 23-24)

    "An MCA answer document should be returned for each student enrolled in the district on test day. These include:
    -students who completed the MCAs.
    -students whose answer documents were coded as "REF"2 indicating parent's request that their child not be administered the MCAs. The Test Administration report should be completed with the name(s) of the parent(s) refusing to have their child tested."

    The state wants to collect names of parents who refuse to allow their children to take the MCAs. For what purpose? What exactly would the state do with information like that?

    The secretiveness of the tests gets downright creepy. Two years ago, we applauded the passage of a law allowing parents to review the actual test and answers of their children. After all, these tests enforce the curriculum. They reflect what our children are being taught.

    The process, however, requires a person to sign away their rights to discuss or publicly analyze its content. What kind of openness is this?

    Test Review Policy
    "After student scores are available, parents will have the opportunity to review the actual test (and/or a computer generated copy of the student's responses) to verify the correct and incorrect answers. This review can be done at CFL's main offices in Roseville, or arrangements can be made to meet with a CFL representative. To protect the future use of some test items, parents will need to: (1) sign a non-disclosure agreement; and (2) not be allowed to take any notes or other recordings of the test items. All reviews will be in the presence of a CFL staff member who will be there to ensure that no notes are taken and to answer general questions about the test. Response time will be about 4-6 weeks to locate and copy a student's test answers by the scoring vendor."

    See the nondisclosure agreement.

    The MCAs, along with the federal test, the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) has taken on the protectiveness of national security documents. We think it's time to open the process up and let in the light of day.

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