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Test for diploma examined

Published (3/13/2009)
By Kris Berggren
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A math test Minnesota’s 11th grade students must pass to graduate could be too high a hurdle, say some lawmakers. A bill would create some breathing room for the students, their parents, teachers and school administrators.

The math Graduate Required Assessment for Diploma 11th graders are scheduled to take this year is similar to a test given last year that resulted in just 34 percent proficiency.

HF501 would create a five-year grace period for the thousands of students who may not pass the GRAD. They’d still take the test, but could re-test twice after remedial work; if not proficient, they could still graduate by meeting all other school and state requirements. Meanwhile, a council would study the role of high-stakes assessments in education policy.

A “much more mature, fuller conversation” about a comprehensive policy on which types of assessments work best is needed, said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul).

Critics, such as the Minnesota Business Partnership, call this a “short-term solution” that undermines academic standards.

The rationale for moving the high-stakes test to high school and raising the bar of its content was based on the assumption students would have learned more high-level math, said Julie Cutshall, a Lakeville North High School math teacher. However, today’s students may not have taken the proper “scope and sequence” of courses to adequately prepare them.

Short-term remediation is “not appropriate” in such cases, said Angie Roesner, an Eden Prairie High School teacher. “We do need a short-term fix so that these current juniors are held harmless.”

“Are kids even held back anymore?” asked Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie). “I’m not advocating that, but we’ve got to figure out a way to make sure they’re getting it, they’re grasping the material before they move on to the next level.”

The House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight Committee approved the bill and sent it to the House Finance Committee. A companion, SF405, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood), awaits action by the Senate Education Committee.

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