School superintendents contacted by the Independent last week didn't mince words when it came to the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, required testing under the controversial No Child Left Behind federal law that requires all students to be proficient by 2014. Reading and mathematics MCAs are given in grades 3-8, 10 and 11 and science is given in grades 5 and 8.
One local superintendent said that while some schools can say they're doing better, students who didn't do well on these tests - and some teachers, too - end up feeling like "failures."
It's unfortunate, and not a very good sign, that school leaders feel so dissatisfied with the MCAs, but we can understand their frustration.
We agree that schools must be held accountable for preparing its students, but this kind of testing paints schools with much too broad a brush that doesn't take into account schools that have a relatively high population of minority students, some of whom are facing the extra challenge of grasping the English language and all of its concepts.
Furthermore, schools are put in an even tougher situation when it comes to evaluating all the data and putting it to good use right away in terms of developing curriculum for the upcoming school year because of how long it takes for the data to be turned around and released to them. That was especially true this year, thanks to our Legislature and governor. Because of the state government shutdown, test results weren't made available until last week, meaning no school even had the data in hand until after the first school bell of the year rang. The shutdown also affected when kids could re-test this summer.
We can't blame the Department of Education for those shutdown aftershocks, but maybe in the future it can expedite the data gathering process and get it out to the schools earlier - maybe before the legislative session ends - because who's to say another shutdown isn't in our future? It wouldn't hurt to assume the worst when it comes to our elected officials getting their work done on time. There will be big budget battles to fight in the future and it's conceivable another shutdown will occur.
The Legislature and Gov. Dayton's inability to balance the budget on time did plenty of damage this summer to state workers, anyone who relies on public services and anyone who booked a campsite at a state park in July. Schools wound up paying a steep price once the dust settled with the continuation of a shift in state funding, but there was collateral damage to schools as well that didn't get any attention, as the MDE was unable to process MCA data during the shutdown.
While we're pleased the state has applied for a NCLB waiver that would potentially release schools from the 2014 deadline, we ask the powers that be to look into state testing reform and, in the meantime, do more to release those results earlier.