Officials consider replacing high-stakes GRAD test

/ 28 November 2012 / eunice

Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio, November 28, 2012 – Some state educators and lawmakers want to eliminate a high-stakes test from the list of requirements for a high school diploma.

Minnesota high school seniors are required to pass one final reading, writing and math exam before they get their diplomas. It’s called the GRAD test.

But a significant number of students are not passing the math portion of the test, putting thousands of students at risk of not graduating when test requirements tighten in a few years.

This week, a state task force recommended Minnesota look into new ways of testing students’ readiness to graduate and move on to college or the workforce.

Currently students have up to three chances to pass the math portion of the GRAD test. If they fail, they can still obtain a diploma if they meet other requirements to demonstrate their math proficiency.

By 2015 however, passing the test is the only way students will be able to get a diploma.

Christopher Moore, evaluation and testing specialist at Minneapolis Public Schools, did a statewide study on what that might mean for Minnesota’s high school seniors in 2015. His study estimates a third of Minnesota seniors, or 19,000 students, would not be able to pass the test and would not graduate.

That worries educators in Minneapolis and across the state, Moore said.

“Denying a diploma to 19,000 students per year who have met all the other graduation requirements required by law would be hard on those families when those students could go on to do other things that a diploma might otherwise allow them to do,” Moore said.

Education officials have concerns about the difficulty of the math portion of the GRAD test, as well.

The state task force looking into the issue produced a report showing that a passing grade on the math portion of the GRAD test is equivalent to a score of 22 on the ACT college entrance exam.

Many Minnesota colleges require that students score an 18 in math on the ACT to be accepted. That means a student who scores well enough to be admitted to college, still wouldn’t qualify for a diploma.

Although the concern is focused on the math portion of the GRAD test, the task force is recommending that the entire high-stakes test be replaced by a series of tests throughout a student’s middle and high school career.

Any changes to the GRAD test would need to be approved by Gov. Mark Dayton and state lawmakers.

DFL state Rep. Carlos Mariani, who will chair the House Education Policy committee this session, said the issue will definitely come up in his committee.

“We’ve got a lot of room here to decide the best way to certify a student without using a single high stakes test,” Mariani said.

The GRAD exam could be replaced with the tests proposed by the task force, he said. That way, a student who falls behind can get help.

Mariani said another possibility would be to grant a diploma to a student who does not perform well in math testing if the student shows they are proficient in other academic areas.

The potential loss of high-stakes testing is a concern to some, however.

Jim Bartholmew, education policy director at the Minnesota Business Partnership and also on the task force examining the GRAD test, said a series of assessment tests is not the best way to show a student is ready to graduate.

“If all we do is ask the kids to take the assessments, but then send the message that it doesn’t really matter how well they do,” Bartholmew said, “that doesn’t give them a sense of where they need to be and how to focus on improving.”

About half of U.S. states have some sort of exit exam for their high school seniors in place. A few are reconsidering the tests.

Ohio recently dropped its graduation test and is considering using the ACT college entrance exam instead, an option that some educators think might also work in Minnesota.