ST. PAUL - After the U.S. Department of Education this week rejected his plan to reduce the number of federally mandated exams Minnesota students take, Gov. Mark Dayton says he will find another way.
Dayton said he will meet today with state Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius to discuss other tests the state can eliminate without federal approval.
The governor said he thought there was general agreement that students take too many tests and he still hoped to accomplish some reduction before the 2015 Legislature adjourned.
Dayton had pushed for eliminating math proficiency tests in early elementary school and reading tests in middle school, as well as some college readiness exams. Those plans would have required state and federal approval.
The federal No Child Left Behind, or NCLB, education law requires students take annual proficiency tests in elementary, middle and high school. In Minnesota, students take the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCAs, in reading, math and science.
Dorie Nolt, a U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman, said annual proficiency tests were too important to eliminate.
“Because of the key information that reading and math assessments in each of grades three through eight and in high school provide to parents and educators, we will not consider waiving these requirements of the law,” Nolt said.
Minnesota was one of 43 states granted a waiver from the No Child requirement that all students be proficient by 2014. In exchange, the state implemented new, more nuanced ways of assessing the performance of students, teachers and principals.
The waiver was first granted in 2012. This week, it was renewed for four years.
Dayton first announced his desire to cut the number of tests students take in his 2014 State of the State address. Last month, citing the “heavy toll” excessive testing put on students, teachers and school curriculum, he proposed slashing the 21 required tests by one-third.
Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party members and Education Minnesota, the state teachers union, backed Dayton’s proposal, and it is included in the DFL-led Senate’s education policy bill.
Republicans and groups such as the Minnesota Business Partnership and the state Chamber of Commerce opposed reducing the number of tests for reasons similar to those cited by federal regulators.
Instead, supporters of annual proficiency testing urged Dayton to adopt the recommendations of a testing work group he created in 2014. The group recommended keeping the required MCAs and eliminating several college and career readiness tests.
It also discussed capping the amount of time students spend taking tests.
Besides the tests required by law, students also must take a variety of diagnostic tests. Those assessments vary by school district and are typically used by teachers to gauge students’ academic abilities throughout the year so they can modify instruction.
Dayton said he wanted local school leaders to take a hard look at the exams they require.
“If they are concerned about excessive testing, they need to be part of the solution,” he said.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.