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No grad tests? (03/27/2013)
By Frances Edstrom


It was bound to come to this. Ever since the state instituted graduation tests, the public school complex in the state has worked to get them thrown out. Now, with a pro-teachers union governor and legislature, their dream of unchecked access to the state’s considerable education funds without accountability may become a reality.

According to articles by Minnesota Public Radio and the Pioneer Press, there is a bill “making its way through the Legislature” that would eliminate graduation testing altogether. The impetus for such a bill is the fact that Minnesota students in huge numbers have demonstrated that they cannot pass the math test that would be required to graduate, starting with the class of 2015.

As an aside, students have a much easier time passing reading and writing tests. A further success has been the narrowing of the achievement gap in reading and writing between black and white students to 10 percent over the last five years, according to Megan Boldt of the Pioneer Press. However, before we pat ourselves on the back, keep in mind that 20 percent of students can’t pass the reading test on the first try.

An uncomfortable 42 percent of eleventh graders have failed the math test on the first try. As the deadline looms, the self-described “educators” of our public school children have done the math, added that 42 percent to the 22 percent of state students who already don’t graduate from high school, and have come up with…oh, say, a big percent (hint: over half)…of children who conceivably would not get high school diplomas in 2015.

Boldt reported that the bill’s cosponsor, Sen. Kevin Dahle, DFL-Northfield, “said a group of mostly educators voted 26-2 in November to drop the high-stakes tests…”

Advocates of the plan to drop the graduation tests argue, as did the deputy superintendent of Mounds View Public Schools, that when the graduation tests are dropped in favor of college entrance exams, such as ACT, that would begin in eighth grade, the schools will involve students in the process. The Mounds View administrator said, according to Boldt, that students will be asked what they want to do after graduation, and be told where their ACT scores must be to attain that goal. What good is giving students a goal without helping them get there?

Another administrator, at Bloomington schools, opined that students don’t need to know advanced algebra for college or technical schools. Ah, good to know.

Graduation testing in Minnesota has uncovered the fact that we are graduating children who have not mastered the subject matter society expects of high school graduates. If our students can’t pass graduation tests, it might be safe to assume that they will not score well on the ACT, will not pass entrance exams to some technical schools, nor meet the requirements of 21st century employers. This appalling fact has lead to some excellent discussions and action on teacher training, teacher effectiveness, curriculum choices, the gap between white and black student achievement, and the necessity for remedial classes in our public colleges and universities. Testing has shown the public that we need to hold K-12 public schools accountable for the $14.2 billion (40 percent of our budget) we give them annually to do the job of educating our children.

Now, when the Big Bad Wolf of accountability is knocking on the schoolhouse door, the little piggies want to call off the charge, escape any accountability, let stand the dismal success rate of our students (especially students of color), keep ineffective teachers in classrooms, and continue to offer a weak curriculum.

The public school complex wants to do less and be less accountable, but when it comes to the state budget, they say, “Please, sir, I want some more.”  


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