Local school leaders like new testing system

/ 3 May 2012 / jennifer

Connie Vandermay, East Otter Tail Focus, May 3, 2012 –

Sharp number two pencils may not be a necessary component for standardized testing in Minnesota anymore. At least not if the state successfully completes its shift to online versions of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests.

This year there have been a lot of changes to the state’s testing system. Besides switching to online tests, Minnesota schools have been waivered from standards of the No Child Left Behind Act, and instead are following some new rules – and local school leaders are saying it’s an improvement.

The new state system is a “better, fairer way to measure how schools are doing,” according to Kari Yates, Heart of the Lakes Elementary School principal, who spoke in an interview Monday. The changes are making standardized testing easier for schools, she said.

In a separate interview, New York Mills High School Principal Blaine Novak was also positive about the changes: “Testing went exceptional this year,” he said.

Though the reading portion of the MCA tests was still done with paper and pencils this year, math was completely online.

Online versions have a major benefit – immediate results. It will be long after school is out for the year before data from the handwritten reading tests returns to schools, which means teachers and students are never given the opportunity to respond to the results with further instruction within the same school year.

Another benefit of the new system is that, for the first time ever, kids are able to take the test more than once. They get three opportunities, and from those, their best score is used.

The multiple testing opportunities and the immediate feedback have allowed teachers to use data from the first test to reach out to kids and help them achieve goals in the current year, Yates said.

Yates said this new way of testing has greatly improved scores in Perham. Even the kids were more motivated to improve their testing scores, as they took more ownership of how they did.

Travis Hensch, dean of students in NY Mills, said student scores have improved over the past year, and these are, “exciting times in New York Mills.”

Though testing scores have improved over last year, “You can’t compare last year with this year,” cautioned Todd Cameron, NY Mills superintendent. The true comparison will be this year to next year, when the testing process is similar.

As the new system comes together, the state is making changes for next year. While kids will still get three opportunities to test, the first two will be considered practice, and only the late spring test will be used for accountability purposes.

All these changes are due to a waiver that Minnesota received from the No Child Left Behind Act and all the consequences that came with not making Adequate Yearly Progress under that Act.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, the designation of Needs Improvement Status will no longer be applicable for schools. The sanctions and requirements regarding federal funding and improvement plans will no longer be applicable, either.

However, Minnesota schools will still need to prove accountable year after year under the new Multiple Measurements Rating plan. This new system is based on proficiency, student growth, achievement gap closure, and graduation rate.

Yates said, “In a nutshell, with the waiver, Minnesota was given permission to build an alternate assessment for responding to schools who are struggling with proficiency.”

Data from the Multiple Measurements Rating plan will be available to districts on May 14 and will be released to the public on May 22. The ratings and designations will be based on assessment data from 2011 and 2010.