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Can you pass the math graduation test? (02/17/2013)
By Emily Buss
With the threat of stricter high school graduation standards on the horizon, Minnesota students could soon face the reality that not passing the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA-II) math exam could leave them without a diploma.

Students take the test in 11th grade. If they do not pass, a student has three opportunities to retake the exam. Just 42 percent of 11th graders in the Winona Area Public School (WAPS) system passed the MCA-II test last year, a figure that would have left more than half of that class without a diploma if the math graduation standards had been enforced.

Currently, the state of Minnesota has a waiver program in place that allows juniors who fail the math exam, including all three retakes, to graduate. The student is issued a diploma with a mark, however, signifying the student did not pass the test or master basic math skills such as algebra or geometry. With the waiver system set to expire for the 2012-2013 sophomore class, the pressure is mounting.

"I believe assessments in general can be stressful for some students," WAPS curriculum director Jenny Bushman said. Earlier last year, Bushman said that "some questions [on the test] are hard," adding that most math teachers would agree.

If students are required to pass the test in the coming school year, it could mean a significant drop in graduation rates. And, with the possibility of the introduction of an entirely new test—the MCA-III—the success of WAPS students, and others across the state, is uncertain.

State Education Commissioner Brenda Casseilus assembled a task force to investigate the new MCA-III, a test based on standards that have been in place since 2007. WAPS district testing coordinator Arvie Osterloh said while 2014 is the year the new test is to be used, "it is still in draft [form] and the [task force] is reviewing it."

Conflicting schedules

As discussions about rescheduling the WAPS secondary school day continue, Winona Senior High School (WSHS) principal Kelly Halvorsen recently briefed the school board on a situation that she said could have a detrimental effect on student performance.

In some cases, WSHS students aren't taking the correct sequence of math courses that adequately prepare them to take the MCA-II test.

According to Halvorsen, students are missing a statistics course that accounts for as much as 15 percent of the high stakes exam. However, Bushman said, simply offering the necessary coursework before the exam isn't "that simple."

The current trimester schedule is to blame for the fact that students are missing the statistics course when they take the math test in the spring of their junior year, Halvorsen told the board. In previous years, Halvorsen said, the district observed a two percent passing rate for students who initially failed, then retested before completing the missing statistics course. The number climbed to 17 percent when retesting was delayed until after the course was taken, according to Halvorsen.

"I think what is most important is that standards are met prior to the assessment," Bushman said. "Changes have been made to support this and we continue to explore the best way to meet the needs of students regarding standards."

Halvorsen added the district will continue to take "responsibility" and "make sure" that the necessary curriculum is provided so students are prepared to take the high stakes exam.

So, we're asking, "Can you pass the MCA-II test*?" Turn to page 5a for the test in its entirety and the answers can be found on page 10a.

*The sample MCA-II test was derived from a MinnPost article and can be found by following this link.



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