Omnibus K-12 education bill taking shape

/ 14 March 2013 / eunice

Sarah Lemagie, Session Daily, March 14, 2013 – Students would say goodbye to high-stakes state graduation exams, school districts would be able to start classes before Labor Day, and teachers would see changes in the licensure path they must follow to show mastery of basic skills.

Those changes to Minnesota’s K-12 education laws are among the proposals rolled into an omnibus bill that was approved by the House Education Policy Committee on Thursday.

The bill’s proposed changes to statewide testing are a “game-changer,” said Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), the committee’s chair and sponsor of HF1151. The bill would replace “old and problematic” tests with a new assessment system that would maintain high standards while intervening more effectively with struggling learners and helping all students plan their careers, he said.

That’s not how the committee’s minority leader sees it. “We’re reducing the standards,” said Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton).

The bill’s plan to redesign assessments includes a controversial provision that would scrap high-stakes exit exams currently required by the state. Instead of GRAD tests in reading, math and writing, students would take – but would not be required to achieve a particular score on – a new series of tests before graduating.

Republicans such as Erickson say that the state should set some kind of passing score as a graduation requirement. Students “need to have some kind of indicator before they leave high school that they are college-ready, based on an accepted standard,” she said.

A central point of the new assessments is to help students reach their individual potential, and setting cut scores on a test wouldn’t do that, countered Rep. Kathy Brynaert (DFL-Mankato). Not all students are ready to go to college when they leave high school, and some may never be able to do Algebra II, “but they may walk out of high school prepared to work.”

Basic skills test would be scrutinized

The omnibus bill would also sunset, in the fall of 2014, the requirement that teachers pass a basic skills test in order to get a license. Instead, the state would form a task force to recommend, by early 2014, a new plan to assess teachers’ basic mastery of writing, reading and math. The bill would also give teachers who haven’t passed the test a way to receive temporary licenses.

School districts would be allowed to begin the school year before Labor Day, though they wouldn’t be allowed to hold classes on the Thursday or Friday before the holiday. Currently, most districts are prohibited from starting the school year before Labor Day.

The bill would also roll out a revamped plan to fund integration efforts in schools, continuing state aid that’s slated to sunset this year. It would pave the way for creation of an adult diploma reflecting statewide standards. And it would make changes to laws related to charter school governance and oversight.

The bill now moves to the House Education Finance Committee.

The following are some of the bills that have been incorporated, in part or in whole, into the omnibus K-12 education bill: