Next spring, when students take the MCA standardized tests, 11th graders will also take the GRAD math test for the first time. While MCA's are used to determine whether schools are meeting federal standards, GRAD scores determine whether students graduate.
At the state Capitol Monday morning, worries were voiced, not with the standards, but with their timing.
Because the test is given in 11th grade, and results won't be known until the end of that school year, students who fail will have less than a year to re-take and pass the GRAD before graduation. That had some school officials worried that thousands of current juniors might not graduate in 2010.
"Parents don't know this is even coming down the pipeline," said Edina School Board member Peyton Robb, while testifying at the Capitol Monday. "Basically, they're going to be faced with this result at the end of their 11th grade year. Their senior year is likely to be trashed, in large part, because of the remediation that will be needed."
The GRAD test is administered within the MCA-II test. For math, students will answer 85 total questions. The answers to 40 of those will determine the student's GRAD score; 50 answers will be used to score the MCA-II. Those two numbers add up to more than 85 because there's overlap: Twenty-five of the questions are used to grade both the MCA-II and GRAD. (In fact, 20 of the 85 questions aren't graded at all; they're used as field tests and are being prepared for use in future exams.)
The timing issue is not present with the writing and reading GRAD tests because they happen earlier in high school (9th and 10th grade, respectively), presumably enough time for a student to catch up and retake the test.
A new task force, announced at the Capitol committee meeting, will look at possible remedies for the math test. They include everything from moving the math GRAD to 10th grade, to changing the requirement that exams be given at the end of each math course instead of once in the 11th grade, to even tying GRAD scores to drivers' licenses as a way to entice kids to pay attention.
There was also discussion of allowing schools to still award diplomas, if a student that failed the GRAD was able to display math literacy in some other way.
"You notice we haven't talked about changing those standards," noted state Sen. Chuck Wiger-DFL, Maplewood. "It's a matter of whether that's an absolute rejection from your continuing."
Wiger, in announcing Monday's meeting, sent out a notice that carried the bold headline "Nearly two-thirds of the Class of 2010 May Not Graduate." He garnered that statistic from the fact that nearly two-thirds of high school juniors who took the MCA-II's last spring didn't meet state proficiency requirements.
Department of Education officials have noted, however, that the test last year wasn't counted towards GRAD, and if students will be motivated to perform better if they know their own diploma rests on their score. Also, the 'passing score' for the GRAD math test hasn't yet been established, so there's no sure way to estimate how many students might actually fail.
Minnesota's Education Commissioner, Alice Seagren, also testified on Monday. But she refused to take a position on any specific idea.
Instead, she pleaded with lawmakers, saying if they are planning to make changes to do so quickly so her department can realistically put those changes in place in time.
"We can't step backwards and go back to lower standards at this point," noted Seagren. "But we also have to recognize that we have kids that are struggling, and how are we going to help them meet at least a minimum bar?"