Some educators want to ease up on Minn. math exam

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota math test that will soon be tied to graduation is causing consternation among some educators, who planned Tuesday to formalize a push to drop the requirement.

The Star Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/TZWcrG ) that a task force reviewing state testing practices was expected to recommend breaking the link between passage of the test and graduation. Such a move would require approval from the state Legislature and governor.

The concern is that nearly one-third of high school students could be denied a diploma. Currently, students can take the test three times and get a waiver if they fail repeatedly. But that grace period goes away with this year's sophomore class. It's one of two high-stakes GRAD exams in the state's testing arsenal, with the other measuring reading comprehension skills.

An analysis by the Minneapolis school district found that 31 percent of students across the state, or 19,000 total, are likely to fail the math GRAD test even after repeated tries.

Minnesota has had various forms of exit exams since the state debuted its basic skills tests in 1997. The Center on Educational Policy at George Washington University notes that 25 states have required exit exams, but four of them are on the verge of phasing them out.

Business and other groups that advocate for exit exams argue that many seniors are graduating without the skills needed for college or vocational success.

Jim Bartholomew, education policy director for the Minnesota Business Partnership, said too many students spend time and money on remedial college courses to master skills instead of focusing on a normal college curriculum. "That's a travesty," he said.

David Heistad, research director in the Bloomington school district, said that Minnesota's passing standard on its math GRAD is higher than the standard for the ACT needed for admission for most four-year colleges in Minnesota. That means those who fail the test three times would be denied a diploma even if they met required college-entrance scores.

At the Capitol, there is openness to scaling back testing requirements, which were a focus of the task force review.

Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, favored less state testing when the issue came up during his campaign two years ago.

In 2009, the Legislature put the brakes on the math test-diploma link, instituting the waiver that expires in 2015. It was meant to buy decision-makers more time to fashion an alternate assessment.

Democratic Rep. Carlos Mariani, the incoming chair of the House Education Policy Committee and executive director of the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership, said coming up with an alternative hasn't been easy.

"What we were wrestling with was that the pendulum had swung too far from the judgment of that teacher, and too far toward a single assessment," he said. "We're trying to find a more intelligent way to do it, knowing that some students don't test well, which doesn't mean that they're not proficient."

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Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com

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