October 26, 2015 Testimony from Peter Olson-Skog before the Senate Education Committee

Greetings Chairman Wiger and Members of the Committee-

My name is Peter Olson-Skog. I am proud father of a 3rd, 6th and 8th grader who are each public school students. As such, I am extremely grateful for the time and energy that you and the rest of our MN legislators spend on ensuring a great public education system for all students. I also serve as the Assistant Superintendent for Roseville Area Schools and I was appointed to serve on the Governor’s Testing Reduction Taskforce.

Each of my three children will take standardized tests this year. As a father and an educator, I see the need for our public education system to be accountable to those who support it through their taxes and to those who’s future depends on it, which is really all of us. However, I think we can do better in how we go about creating that accountability. First and foremost, we can look for ways to reduce the amount of time that accountability measures take away from instruction.

Let me be clear, my comments should not be interpreted to mean that I think assessment is bad. Assessment that leads to better instruction for students by revealing their individual talents and needs is part of any great education system here or anywhere else in the world.

I am speaking about the need to reduce time on assessments whose primary espoused purpose and/or actual utility is accountability. As a side note, I previous mentioned “the rest of the world”. We often hear about other countries who are performing better than us on international tests. This creates concern that leads to more accountability measures. The irony is that most of the countries who are outperforming us are doing so, in part, by using less of their instructional time on standardized accountability measures.

Returning to Minnesota, I would like to speak to one specific part of our accountability system, high school testing through MCAs and the ACT.

Both the MCA and the ACT measure math, reading and science. We can use both the MCA and the ACT as accountability measures for the overall performance of our students and to measure the achievement gap. We, as Minnesotans, can decide (both the MCA and the ACT) how well we want Minnesota students to perform in order to be considered “proficient”. If we can do all of these with both assessments, why wouldn’t we just pick one? Assuming we can, I argue that the ACT is a much better choice for our high school students and for our state.

The ACT helps students get into college, the MCA does not. If all students take the ACT it gets them that much closer to college. We see many students who didn’t see themselves as college-bound until they took the ACT. After taking it, they began to see it as a more likely possibility. One can argue that colleges are using the ACT less for admissions, but it still is much more important than the MCA to colleges and universities both here in Minnesota and beyond.

The ACT requires less time and would leave our students with more time for instruction. One could argue that aligning the MCA to our state standards will increase the time it would take, but it would still likely be shorter and definitely shorter than taking both.

Furthermore, on the issue of the time, the ACT is paper-based. This means all students can take it on one day or two instead interrupting weeks/even months of instruction to get all students through our limited computer labs. A byproduct is that our computer labs could return to being used for enhancing instruction, rather than being testing facilities all spring.

Having worked on the private side of education testing, I also wonder why we continually invest our limited state resources to reinvent the wheel. Each state contracts with companies to help them create their own measures of reading, math and science proficiency under the assumption that math in Minnesota is extremely different than math in Wisconsin. I think the differences are over-stated and we can benefit from taking similar assessment that can be compared across states.

Speaking of Wisconsin, that brings me to my last point. I am not original. One might even accuse me of plagiarizing my comments today, so let me cite a source. The New York Times ran an article this summer reporting how Connecticut was making a similar move to the one I am suggesting with similar rationale to that I have share. It went on to discussed how many other states that were already using the ACT or SAT as their high school test, all approved by the US Department of Education.

We wouldn’t be the first state to help our students and teachers in this way. I encourage you as leaders to create legislation that will ensure that we won’t be the last.

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