Restoring Minnesota's Excellent Education System
Recommendations for Minnesota Education Standards

August 2002

Operating Principle

Tests drive the curriculum. These recommendations are based on the understanding that what is tested will be taught. The tests that are used to measure student achievement form the core of the education standards. For that reason, the first, and most central recommendation in this proposal addresses the issue of testing.

Introduction

These recommendations are presented to answer the questions, "What will Minnesota use in place of the Profile of Learning after the Profile is repealed?" These recommendations also assume that the repeal of the Profile of Learning signals a desire on the part of the legislature and the public that whatever replaces the Profile should not replicate the primary elements of the Profile under another name.

PROFILE OF LEARNING
The most fundamental flaw of the Profile of Learning is its focus on inculcating attitudes, values and beliefs in students rather than teaching knowledge. The teaching of facts and information, whether in history, math, science or literature, becomes secondary.

Under the Profile of Learning, our students are not acquiring the education that parents and taxpayers expect. There has never been public support for the Profile of Learning. Its advocates have relied on slick promotional language that misrepresents the Profile as "high standards," when it is really low academic standards.

FEDERAL STANDARDS
The Profile "standards" conform to the federal mandates described in various documents, such as: The Goals 2000: Education America Act of 1994, The School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994, the 1994 reauthorization of The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (HR 6), the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary skills (SCANS), the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the Center for Civics Education National Standards on Civics and Government, and the 2002 reauthorization of the ESEA No Child Left Behind. Federal standards also re-focus the purpose of education away from objective, academic knowledge, and toward attitudes, values and beliefs.

The goal of repealing the Profile is to re-establish our once excellent liberal arts, knowledge-based, academic education system. This goal requires that Minnesota establish an accountability system that de-couples the attitude and behavior-based federal standards from the Minnesota standards.

THE PRESENT ACCOUNTABILITY SYSTEM
Minnesota teachers, schools and school districts are held accountable to the Profile of Learning through the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs), presently administered in 3rd, 5th, 10th and 11th grades. The MCAs are fully aligned with the content standards of the Profile. The purpose of these assessments is to measure how successfully the Profile is being embedded into the curriculum and how well its standards are being reflected in student outcomes. Rewards and sanctions for teachers, schools and districts are tied to MCA performance. The MCAs are the primary enforcement method that drives the Profile curriculum in every school and in every classroom.

For example, Profile standards require a "constructivist" view of the world. Constructivism is the philosophy that "facts" and "knowledge" continuously evolve or change depending on one's individual perspective. In other words, there are no absolutes. Students are therefore directed to "construct" their own personal meanings that reflect their own personal experiences. These experiences are based upon government defined multicultural group perspectives. The MCAs, then, assess constructivism to determine how well this radical philosophy is being taught.

Another shift in education philosophy under the Profile standards is that learning is viewed as valuable only if it is deemed "useful" for one's future work. "School-to-Work" replaces liberal arts academics with job skills training. The MCAs, in turn, focus on readiness based upon skill attainment. They measure how well a student's job focus and proper attitudes toward careers are being taught.

Another fundamental problem with the MCA accountability system is that because its purpose is to assess progress in implementing the Profile, it does not measure high academic achievement. The Profile is a minimum competency system, as it relates to academics, such as reading, writing and math.


Recommendation #1


Commission the development of an objective, academic achievement test that measures students' knowledge
and intellectual capability, not government-approved attitudes, beliefs and values.

The public wants to know whether schools and teachers are effective in inculcating knowledge. A properly written academic achievement test is a tool that gives parents, schools and lawmakers a means to objectively assess how well the schools transmitting knowledge to students. It would be administered in the 12th grade, but need not be a high stakes test for students.

An objective, high academic achievement test would be graded to measure the entire achievement continuum from high to low. Such information would provide incentives for schools to challenge and reward students for high academic performance.

The academic achievement test would be independently commissioned to assure that the content is de-coupled from the federal non-academic standards. Each question would have a single correct answer. At the present time the standard college entrance assessments and norm-referenced achievement tests (such as the Iowa Basics) are being aligned with the federal non-academic standards that focus on attitudes, values and beliefs based on subjective questions. The new test would be similar to what the ACT and SAT tests were ten or so years ago, before they were aligned with the federal standards.

Tests drive the curriculum. Teachers and school administrators would be free to teach using the methods and curriculum they find most effective, but they would be required to focus on academics, rather than government-defined and subjective values.

Other states might also have an interest in using the same test as they confront the same issues that Minnesota faces with the federal curriculum. Vermont's Democratic Governor Dean, for example, has openly discussed refusing federal education money in order to free that state from the federal requirements that accompany the federal money.


Recommendation #2


Keep the Basic Skills Test in place to measure minimum competencies in reading and math.
Allow the test to be administered as early as sixth grade, and make it a high stakes test for advancing to high school.

The Department of Children, Families and Learning has acknowledges that the Basic Skills Test is based upon sixth grade level curriculum content. By administering the test at the appropriate grade, earlier intervention and remediation is possible. Remediation for 6th grade material should be begin before the 8th grade.

Students who are unable to master the Basic Skills test in reading and math are not prepared to learn at the high school level. Remediation should be provided before students enter high school.


Recommendation #3:


Incorporate the North Star Standards as a guideline for the academic content that districts should strive to teach.

The North Star Standards were developed during the 2000 legislative session with input from parents, educators and lawmakers as an alternative to the Profile. They should be considered a draft, a work in progress. The North Star Standards have been heard in and passed out of the Minnesota House Education Committee. They have been debated and passed off the floor of the House of Representatives and they have been debated in conference committee. Support was only withdrawn because the North Star Standards would have been subjected to the same Profile-biased assessment.

The North Star Standards are not the curriculum. They do not mandate specific curriculum teachers must use. They do not specify methodology, such as group learning and performance packages as were dictated by the Profile of Learning. They are not enforced with periodic assessments, such as the MCAs or annual tests that the new federal law dictates. The North Star Standards are general guidelines for knowledge that students are expected to learn. The methods for teaching that knowledge are left to the teachers and districts as approved through locally elected school boards. In this way, the North Star Standards respect the local control of the schools.


Recommendation #4


Any measures of teacher or school performance shall not be based upon the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments.

The MCAs exist to measure compliance with the new philosophy of learning contained in the Profile of Learning. Teachers and schools performance measures based upon the results of the MCAs will necessarily bind our them to the non-academic standards and methods of the Profile, rather than to objective knowledge-based standards.


Recommendation #5


Repeal Minnesota's teacher-licensing requirements, which have been aligned with the non-academic
standards and methods of the Profile of Learning and School-to-Work. De-couple their
requirements from the national teacher licensure board.

The Minnesota Board of Teaching adopted 250 pages of new licensure rules that tie teacher licenses specifically to the Profile of Learning philosophy and force acceptance of the School-to-Work system. If the legislature and the public reject the Profile, they most certainly would reject teacher licensure requirements built on the Profile. The teacher licensing requirements must be revised to restore the purpose of teaching to the transmission of knowledge to students.

The Interstate New Teachers Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) is the source of the new rules. Its philosophy is aligned with the federal non-academic standards, so the new teacher licensing rules must be de-coupled from INTASC once the Profile is repealed.

New teacher licensure rules should be adopted that reflect the two criteria for qualified teachers. Teachers must have adequate pedagogical skills, and they must have a fundamental knowledge of the subject they are teaching.


Conclusion


Tests drive the Curriculum. If Minnesota is to repeal the failed experiment of the Profile of Learning and reinstate knowledge-based education in our schools, lawmakers must address the test by which results are measured. It is impossible to have objective, knowledge-based standards that are held accountable to the Profile of Learning assessment -- the MCAs.

Recommendations to replace the Profile of Learning are:

1. Commission the development of an objective, knowledge-based, academic achievement test for a non-high stakes high school graduation test that is independent of the federal curriculum.

2. Administer the Basic Skills Test in 6th grade, and make it high stakes to advance to secondary school.

3. Adopt the North Star Standards as guidelines for knowledge-based teaching.

4. Any measures of teacher performance will not be based upon the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments.

5. Repeal Minnesota's new teacher licensing requirements and replace them with requirements that restore the purpose of teaching to the transmission of knowledge.

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