Statewide school testing starts today

Standardized testing
Students taking standardized tests.
Photo courtesy of American RadioWorks

The correct response would be C.

Students will start filling in circles today and for the next three weeks on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment and the Graduation-Required Assessment for Diploma.

The MCA and GRAD assessments are Minnesota's two major standardized tests.

The GRAD test is required for a diploma, the MCA is an annual snapshot of how well kids are learning in grades 3 through 8, as well as high school sophomores and juniors.

The tests in Minnesota date back to 1995.

Scores have fallen and risen since then, but officials are constantly adjusting and expanding the tests.

Chas Anderson, deputy education commissioner, said this year will be no different.

A new online science assessment will follow the usual reading, writing and math tests.

"It's brand new. It's the first year of full administration of the science test in grade 5, 8 and then at the end of biology in high school. It is all online," Anderson said. "A couple states have attempted to try an online science test. That hasn't worked out.

"Minnesota has a very robust online science assessment, and I think this will give us a lot of good information as we potentially move forward with reading and math for online assessment."

It's still more practical to use pencil and paper for math and reading tests. There aren't enough computers or computer lab time to accommodate the all the students required to take them.

But the the web is making for changes in traditional tests, too.

This year, the state is offering free online and printable tutorials tailored to standardized tests. Parents can use them to supplement regular homework.

Similar materials will be available to teachers during the school year to help them prepare their students.

Outside the classroom, state officials also say they're planning to get results back faster than ever before.

Department of Education planners say they're pushing schools harder to get their student records in order before the tests start, which is likely to make it easier to process the results.

But bigger questions still lie ahead for testing overall.

With a coming change of administrations in Washington and uncertainty about the federal No Child Left Behind program, some wonder if this spring might mark a high point for standardized testing.

Mark Davison is an education professor at the University of Minnesota who studies testing. He thinks the future of testing could look noticeably different.

"Probably, we have as much testing as we're going to have. There will be discussion, I think, of how much testing we need," Davison said. "It may be decided that we don't need as much as we have now, you know, we don't need to test every child, every grade, every year."

But Minnesota still does. And you mark that as true for the rest of April.

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