MARSHALL - Although school is out, the students are still waiting to get the results of one test, and that's the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments 2nd Edition, more commonly known as MCA II tests.
"The MCA IIs were built in response to No Child Left Behind legislation," said Marshall Superintendent Klint Willert. "Each state was required to have a comprehensive benchmark tool to assess students in each state's standards.
"It is an assessment of the school as much as it is the student," Willert said, and the tests measure different skills "based on state standards at that grade level."
"The word 'accountability' is a frequent one in education today, and as educators, we are in charge of students' achievement," said Phil Lienemann, principal of Lakeview High School. "How do we determine student achievement? One means is testing.
"Educators try to instill into students the importance of these tests on a regular basis," Lienemann said. "For students, there are three tests that indicate whether or not they will graduate. These 'high-stakes' tests are the ninth-grade writing test, the 10th-grade reading test and the 11th-grade math test."
Recently, a science test for grades eight and 10 have been implemented, as well, Willert said.
"For the district, every test is important as they determine if the schools are making Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP," Lienemann said. "If schools fail to make AYP, there are side effects including school choice, creation of programs to target low areas, and even the removal of school personnel as witness this past March in Rhode Island."
"This is the score card on how the district is doing," Willert said. "These assessments impact where funding goes in the schools."
If a school doesn't measure up to AYP, it could mean money is funneled from one program, like Title I, into staff development, he said.
The results are reported to the state and national level, Willert said, but are also beneficial to the local districts to see where they should be focusing energy to best prepare the students for life after school.
"You have to keep making progress along the way," Willert said. "The expectations are very high: by 2014, we have to have 100 percent of students passing these tests."
Some criticism has arisen that the students are being tested too much and that teachers have time for nothing but "teaching to the test," but Willert pointed out "These tests really come back to measuring how a child is doing on the state standards. The test is just the way the state has to determine if our district is meeting the state standards."
Neither Willert nor Lienemann thinks the system is fool-proof.
"As an educator, I value the tests while acknowledging they are a snapshot of one day of a student's school year," Lienemann said. "There are many factors playing into the tests including some pressure to do well and/or test anxiety. I truly hope our legislators continue to work towards a growth model for schools and students as a better indicator of how our schools are doing. Our teachers observe growth every day, but that information is not recorded on a state test in any form."
"I fully expect there will be more tests in the future," Willert said, pointing out that 48 states, including Minnesota, and Washington D.C. "have signed on for national standards. There's an effort to create an assessment tool to go along with those standards."
As hard as the teachers and administration work to prepare the kids, there's an even more important factor, Willert said.
"We need to continue to have parents' support to make sure kids are prepared," he said. "Parents need to provide kids with rest and a good breakfast before these assessments because they are important in so many different ways."