Minnesota lawmakers prepare to cut down on testing

Minnesota prepared Monday to trim more standardized testing, echoing President Barack Obama's weekend call to ensure that students aren't spending too much time on exams.

The Legislature has made a raft of changes to public school testing in recent years, including eliminating high school exit exams in 2013 and capping testing time earlier this year. It's been the subject of repeated calls to eliminate nearly two dozen different exams, work groups and stalled legislative proposals. And lawmakers aren't done.

A state Senate committee discussed how to reduce that burden, with proponents arguing that some "high stakes" tests designed after federal education standards can be duplicative and pull students away from more valuable class time.

Their goal could be buoyed by the president's announcement on Saturday. Sen. Charles Wiger, a Maplewood Democrat who chairs the Senate's education committee, said it "re-energized" the need to chip away at testing, which he called a top priority for next year. Wiger said it gives him hope that the federal government would approve more waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act, the law that required standardized testing starting in third grade.

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Some lawmakers and the state's massive teacher's union, Education Minnesota, targeted their focus on the state's annual math, science and reading exams for possible cuts. Roseville Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Peter Olson-Skog said those tests, called the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, focus too much on meeting federal standards at the expense of better teaching and learning tools.

"Please break this wheel of test preparation followed by testing, followed by more test preparation followed by more testing," said Annette Walen, an Osseo teacher.

Gov. Mark Dayton last year proposed reducing how frequently students take those exams and other tests, but a bill in the Legislature this year faltered amid doubt that the federal government would approve it.

But others objected to focusing on the assessments for possible cuts. Jim Bartholemew, education policy director at the Minnesota Business Partnership. Joshua Crosson of MinnCAN, an advocacy group dedicated to tackling the achievement gap, said those exams provide the state a crucial look at which schools and districts need the most help to tackle disparities.

"The MCAs really shouldn't be the only test that we're talking about getting rid of," Crosson said.