Will Minnesota Say Goodbye to Standardized Tests?

The requirements for getting a diploma may change in Minnesota.
High school seniors in Minnesota could see a change in what is required of them to graduate. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
Apr 26, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Suzi Parker is a regular contributor to TakePart. Her work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

Some Minnesota politicians—including the state’s governor—are saying enough is enough to standardized testing.

“You need some testing and accountability,” Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton said. “But send third graders home thinking they’ve failed life because they failed some test—it’s just the wrong way to get kids to want to learn.”

Dayton told local reporters this week that he has been in talks with the state’s education commissioner “to figure out how we can reduce this excess of testing.”

This week the Minnesota senate passed a bill that alters the state’s testing system. Instead of having to pass a test that includes reading and writing to graduate, the system will be focused more on career and college readiness.

Several state senate Republicans and educators were against the test changes, especially regarding the watering down of requirements for every student to earn a minimum test score in order to graduate.

“A uniform, statewide academic goal can help students understand what is expected of them,” an editor wrote in an opinion piece for the Minneapolis StarTribune. “A high school diploma should stand for something and, at the very least, should mean that a student who receives it is reasonably proficient in reading and writing.” Additionally the article stated, “Any high school teacher knows that students can easily blow off an exam that has no consequences.”

The bill is the latest chapter in an ongoing debate in the state to move away from tests students need to receive a diploma. But the Minnesota debate is also indicative of a movement that argues that students are exposed to an overabundance of testing.

This week Chicago students opted out of taking state-required tests and instead protested. New York parents and students also recently boycotted standardized tests.

Proponents of the Graduation Required Assessment for Diploma (GRAD) tests argue that for the two years that students have taken the tests, the majority of them have passed it. In fact, about 96.7 percent of the students who took the writing test and 91.1 percent who took the reading test passed in 2011. They say that since this is the case, what is taught is in line with teaching in the classroom.

But that’s exactly what opponents worry about—too much teaching to the test and little else.

“We don’t think benchmarks…are always a good indicator of career and college readiness,” Senator Kevin Dahle, a Democrat and cosponsor of the bill, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Tom Dooher, president of the teachers union Education Minnesota, agrees. He told Minnesota Public Radio that teachers “teach kids testing strategies, teach them about what are some ways to dissect a question, taking practice tests, then taking times to do the tests, then retest for those that didn't do well.” He also said that the results are returned long after students pass into the next grade.

Another problem is arising in Minnesota as more tests are administered online.

This week, a handful of the state’s districts had problems administering online assessment tests. According to Minnesota Public Radio, “The test questions have been slow to load, sometimes taking several minutes. Some students have been kicked off the system as they took the test.”

Teachers, having invested hours preparing for the tests, now must question whether the test results will even be valid in light of the glitches.