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Social and Emotional Learning

January 28, 2005

MN House Education Hearing on Math assessments

In early December an EdWatch update alerted the Minnesota public that severe damage will occur to K-12 math education from the new testing guidelines being promulgated by the Minnesota Department of Education. If left unchecked, we noted, these new guidelines will seriously retard the ability of Minnesota high school graduates to succeed at college.  The controversy that followed resulted in a hearing scheduled in the House Education Policy Committee to air the problem. That hearing took place on Tuesday, January 25th.

The legislative committee heard testimony about progress toward resolving the inconsistency of the new math assessments with the math standards that were adopted by the legislature in 2003 to replace the Profile of Learning. All of the appointed writers of the math framework for the assessments were supporters of the integrated math that reflected the old Profile of Learning math standards. No one who represented the traditional approach to math curriculum, which balances "computing" and "context", was included in the process.

The math assessment framework problem now appears to be on its way toward resolution, thanks in large part to Rep. Mark Buesgens, Chair of the House Education Policy Committee, who scheduled this hearing early in January. This gave the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) time to correct their damaging work. Please take a moment to call his office to thank him: 651-296-5185. Thanks also goes to all of you who contacted your legislators about this matter. Finally, Dr. Larry Gray and Prof. Bert Fristedt from the University of Minnesota math department have done the heavy lifting on holding the MDE accountable to the public and to the legislative process.

The MDE staff had little to say on the subject, choosing instead to give a general description of the future of assessments in Minnesota. Dr. Larry Gray, Head of the School of Mathematics at the University of Minnesota, and a member of the new math standards committee, testified. Here are excerpts from his testimony. 

Two years ago, Commissioner Yecke assembled a group of 40 people to write the new Minnesota State Math Standards.  The process was very intense, with widely varying points of view. The final product was a carefully worked out balance between conceptual and computational approaches to K-12 math, and there was surprisingly broad acceptance from all sides...All of us expressed a willingness to participate in the next critical stage, which was the writing of the test specs...

I was under the clear impression that a commitment was made to me and the others that we would all be consulted during that process.

In the latter half of September, 2004, a draft of proposed test specifications for the math MCA’s was made public.  This was the first time that I had any chance to see what had been going on.  In particular, I was not consulted during the production of that draft. I was extremely concerned when it became apparent to me that the proposed test specifications were significantly out of alignment with the standards that we had written 18 months earlier...

Within a week or two, I met with Commissioner Seagren and staff from the MDE.  In my view, the meeting did not go well. But I had a follow-up meeting with Commissioner Seagren in which she called for patience...It appears that in the interim, staff from MDE and volunteers ... were hard at work producing a revision of the proposed test specifications...

On January 12, 2005, I had a first chance to look at the latest revision.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that significant improvements had been made, and that the Commissioner seemed genuinely anxious that the test specifications be in alignment with the standards. Since then, MDE has been very cooperative with me, and I have had a chance to study the revised drafts. This resulted in a large number of questions, which I have discussed at length with MDE staff...There is much left to be done, but it appears to me that MDE is working in good faith to bring about alignment where possible ...

Promises have been made to address several of my current concerns, and reasonable explanations were given regarding other concerns that I have.  I am optimistic about the final outcome, but cannot be definitive in my level of support until I see the end result.

See Dr. Gray's entire testimony on our website. (pdf format)

Julie Quist from EdWatch also testified, noting:

The Minnesota Legislature repealed the Profile of Learning in 2003, one reason being that integrated math was proving to be a disaster. In 2003, the Minnesota Legislature also adopted new math standards. These new standards removed most integrated math from the state requirements and substituted traditional math in its place ...In spite of the new academic standards, however, and in spite of the Profile’s repeal, the guidelines developed for the new math tests were based on integrated math (the old Profile math), not traditional math ...The people of Minnesota want to know how this happened. How can new tests be written properly by a group who support the Profile standards? Why was no one who supported the traditional math and who opposed the Profile math included? ...The parents and citizens of Minnesota have reason to feel betrayed.

Also presenting testimony was Kathy Green, Chair of the Austin School Board; Ellen Hoerle, a parent from Eden Prairie who served on the committee that wrote the new math standards; written testimony from Prof. Bert Fristedt of the U of M math department who also served on the math standards committee; and written testimony from a mom in Wayzata, who described the personal experience of her own children with both traditional and integrated math. All of the individuals stated the importance of aligning the math assessments with the new math standards if our children are to be successful.

We will continue to monitor the development of the math assessments and report on its final resolution. Seeing that the assessments are aligned to the new, more traditional math standards is a top EdWatch priority.